The special “Science, Technology, and The Future” issue of Discover magazine arrived a few days ago. One of the articles was about how much the Internet weighs. Turns out they didn’t really solve the question that they asked, but who am I to quibble.
To start with their definition of the Internet is how much traffic there is, not how much data there is. I think that the proper definition of what the Internet “is” would be the sum total of all of the bits available, not the bits transferred. Having said that… their number for total Internet traffic was 40 petabytes, which is 40 x 1015 bytes, or a 4 followed by 16 zeros. Like this:
40 000 000 000 000 000
Give or take a byte or two. Next, they determined how much a bit weighs by figuring out how many electrons it takes to set a memory bit “on”, and they came up with 40,000 electrons for each 1 bit, and of course zero electrons for a zero bit. They made the assumption that a data stream would average half of the bits on and half off… afterall a stream of nothing but 1 bit values would not be very interesting. I think that’s a safe assumption. It turns out that each electron weighs about 2 x 10-30 pounds. Which is to say, not much.
So take 40PB of data and reduce it by half so that we get only the 1 bits. Take that times 40,000 electrons per bit, and the weight of an individual electron, do the math… (carry the one) and you find out that the Internet weighs in at 1.3 x 10-8 pounds, or about 0.2 millionths of an ounce. It’s about the same weight as a very small grain of sand.
For my part I’m going to start transferring a very large picture that is nothing but
black white (all 1’s) just to make the Internet weigh more. Come on, who is with me? Let’s start sharing black white squares.
meh, messed up on the first release of this post. Black is, of course, #000000 and white is #FFFFFF… black just looked heavier