The World is Made of Zettabytes

Science News published an interesting article describing how the volume of data we generate, store, and consume has dramatically increased over time. The numbers are genuinely interesting to me. How anyone measured (or estimated, more likely) this stuff is a bit of a stretch for me.

All that said, I don’t think there are really any surprises here. One thing the article does not mention is that while data volume is up, that doesn’t necessarily translate as information volume is up also. The article does speak to our limited ability to consume data–there’s only so much we can read, watch, process in our own minds. But what I’m suggesting is increases in data volume to some extent manifest as a higher data/information ratio; higher data density.

As an example, compare a typical HD movie of today vs. the earliest DVD video. In nominal terms, the HD movie has many more bits of data due to the larger frame size and higher frame rate. In terms of information though, it is still just a movie. It might look crisper–and arguably perhaps this equates to a marginal increase in “information”–but it can’t really deliver any more salient content than before.

The other point I wanted to make concerns one of the comments:

By now at least 1/3 of all computing is done by game consoles and cellphones, and that number will probably hit 50% within a year or two. To me it’s a bit disconcerting that half of our computing power is wasted on the pursuit of trivial nonsense.

My response is, assuming the commenter is correct, I don’t know why it should be disconcerting. If the gaming/cell phone industries have found ways to leverage technology to become this prominent, they didn’t do it at the expense of “nontrivial” pursuits. In fact, they probably helped to advance the technology we all benefit from.

Picking on IT

I started composing a similar message to my manager  today. I neither like nor dislike IT. In this case however, IT’s lack of initiative made me realize I am resentful of IT’s lack of initiative, considering the alternative is so cheap. It all started when IT Guy sent this around the Department (paraphrased and only slightly altered from a neutral disposition):

<Infrastructure Guy>: Do you think you could delete some stuff? The network is really full up.

This is the umpteenth time my department has been asked the same question. I have nothing against Infrastructure Guy, but with cheap (i.e., free) technology (go ahead, ask me) and 5 extra minutes I would have asked this instead:

<Me>: You have 30 GB of text files in one folder tree that could probably compact to less than 5 GB, saving over 25 GB of disk space. That would reduce your department’s usage by 10%. Do you need these files online or can we zip them?

So let’s compare: In IT guy’s scenario, the staff disperses. If they are engaged at at all, they will hunt & gather files to reduce or delete. They have no information about the size, location, or ownership of files. They probably have no idea how to make an impact here. In my world, a couple people check a few files and (hopefully) find a few quick hits to reduce disk consumption.

This is a real world scenario. Just Sayin’.

ps. Get your free disk usage widget here or here. The former is cool, the latter is too.