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.


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