data quantified

Exploding Brain gravure image
cartoon of an overloaded brain flipping its lid.


Here’s a list of data storage units and their approximate storage capacity:

  • 1 byte: A letter
  • 10 bytes: A word or two
  • 100 bytes: A sentence or two
  • 1 kilobyte 103: A very short story
  • 10 kilobyte: An encyclopedia page
  • 100 kilobyte: A medium-resolution photograph
  • 1 megabyte : A novel
  • 10 megabytes: Two copies of the complete works of Shakespeare
  • 100 megabytes: 1 meter of shelved books
  • 1 gigabyte = 109: A pickup truck filled with pages of text
  • 1 terrabyte = 1012: 50,000 trees of paper
  • 10 terrabytes : The printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress.
  • 1 petabyte = 1015: The Internet Archive Wayback Machine contains almost 2 petabytes of data
  • 1 exabyte = 1018: Berkeley studies estimated that by the end of 1999 the sum of human-produced knowledge (including all audio, video recordings and text/books) was about 12 exabytes of data. The study also estimated that “telephone calls worldwide on both landlines and mobile phones contained 17.3 exabytes of new information if stored in digital form”, and “it would take 9.25 exabytes of storage to hold all U.S. [telephone] calls each year.” International Data Corporation estimates that 161 exabytes of digital information were created, captured, and replicated worldwide in 2006.
  • 1 zettabyte = 1021: The IDC estimates that by 2010 there will be 988 exabytes, just under a zettabyte, in all computer storage world wide.
  • 1 yottabyte = 1024: IBM estimates that soon after 2010 the volume of online data will approach a yottabyte, or 1 trillion terabytes.

That’s a lotta data. [Sentient Developments]

How Much Data in the World?

In 2006, the world created 161 exabytes — of digital information. That’s like 12 stacks of books that each reach from the Earth to the  sun.

By 2010, about 70 percent of the world’s digital data will be created  by individuals. [ASSOCIATED PRESS ]

How Much Data in the Human Brain?

Nobody knows the data compression algorithm (psychology, association…), or a methodology to actually quantify this.

One commenter on a page dealing with this puzzling issue Of Two Minds gets so mad at the discussion, he writes: So.. um… the storage capacity of human memory is whatever a computer science person says his hard drive is, plus 10%. Ok? Not good enough? How about: the storage capacity of human memory is purple.

“The storage capacity of human memory is an asshole.”
“The storage capacity of human memory doesn’t care about your feelings.”
“The storage capacity of human memory slept with your mom.”

And so on. They’re all equally accurate.

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