Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Digital Plenty (2)


Some readers might question last week’s reference to abundance. After all, the economy is in the toilet, the middle class is shrinking, inflation is increasing, and so on. All true, but our own personal digital empires have greatly expanded—and we’re not really aware to what extent. I certainly wasn’t. Until I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

First, what are we measuring? There’s no practical way to count all the different things on our computers. However, what they all have in common is bytes of storage. Over the decades, computer storage has grown from Kilobytes to Megabytes to Gigabytes—and beyond. (A Gigabyte is 1,000,000,000 bytes.)

The average word in English is five letters (bytes). Plus a blank character to separate the words. However, comparing our digital storage to some humongous number of words is hard to visualize. So let’s take something simpler: the printed page. A double-spaced typewritten page is 250 words, or 1,500 bytes.

How much space does one page occupy? Well, a ream of 500 pages (8.5″ x 11″) is about 2.25 inches thick. A ream, then, is comparable to 750,000 bytes. Ten reams of paper will fit in a standard file drawer. That’s 7.5 Megabytes. A standard four-drawer file cabinet is comparable to 30 Megabytes of computer storage. Jump drives are bigger.

To achieve the equivalent of 30 Gigabytes, you’d need a thousand file cabinets. Still not much, since few hard drives today are less than 300 Gigabytes, or ten thousand file cabinets. Of course, this is only potential storage. So let’s say these hard drives are only half full. Therefore, a 300 Gig hard drive represents a mere five thousand file cabinets full of typewritten paper.

I can’t visualize 5,000 file cabinets. Let’s try this: The footprint of a file cabinet is about three square feet. Those 5,000 file cabinets take up 15,000 square feet. Since the average single family home in the US is between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet, that’s at least six houses full of file cabinets (no furniture, no bathroom or kitchen fixtures, nothing but file cabinets).

Of course, this assumes you have one computer with only a 300 Gig hard drive. The hard drive storage on my four computers is equivalent to 31,250 file cabinets (36 houses!). You can work out your own numbers. And don’t forget to add 157 file cabinets for each DVD you own.

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One thought on “Digital Plenty (2)

  1. Jefferabyte on said:

    This is a great visualization. It’s hard to see anything beyond the box, or tablet or phone or whatever it is that is a computer now. And what’s in them is incomprehenisble. Nice piece. This should be offered to newspapers and magazines.

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