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Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

The Weight of the Internet

 

Recently when traveling on the ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver BC, I picked up the June 2007 issue of Discover Magazine. In this issue there was one article that I found particularly interesting. On page 42, “How Much Does the Internet Weigh”?. The article attempts to put an actual physical weight on the data being transferred over the internet on an average day.

The article in many places is far too technical and scientific for me to truly understand, but the basis for the theory is that every bit of data sent via voltages in electronic circuits has some level of mass, albeit minuscule. There is an incredible amount of data sent across the internet on any given day so there must be a measurable figure of weight.

The article goes on to explain and calculate individual internet activities such as sending an email. On average a 50 kilobyte file contains 409,600 bits, half of which, the 1s, have weight and need to be stored. Those 204,800 bits require around 8 billion electrons. One electron weights 2 x 10-30 pound. When they crunched the numbers they got a figure. A 50kb email weights approximately two ten-thousandths of a quadrillionth of an ounce, give or take.

This figure represents just a single email not to mention the seemingly endless stream of instant messages, voice, video, file transfers, web page browsing, etc.

So how much does the internet weigh in an average given day? When taking into account all activities Discover came up with a rough figure: the internet weighs 0.2 millionths of an ounce. Perhaps its time to go on a diet.


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