Feb 8, 2017
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How Much Does the Internet Weigh?

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A strawberry weights about 50 grams, which  according to Russell Seitz also happens to  be the weight of the entire Internet.  What does that mean?  I mean, the Internet is a gigantic place and  how do you measure information?  In fact, a professor at Berkeley estimated  that when a Kindle is completely full of books,  its weight increases by about 10 to the negative  18th grams.

That number is mind blowingly miniscule.  In fact, he says that when you fully charge  a Kindle’s battery, it gains 100 million times  more mass than it does when you fill it with  books.  But even then the number is impossible to  measure.  The most specific scales we’ve ever created  only measure to about 10 to the negative 9th  grams.

So let’s get bigger.  Russell Seitz came up with his measurement  because the Internet is composed of networks  of servers and they’re about 75 to 100 million  servers operating to make the Internet work.  Combined, that many servers equal about 40  billion Watts of electricity and we know that  an Amp is about 10 to the 18th electrons per  second.

Since we know the weight of an electron  we can calculate that the entire Internet  is really just about 50 grams of electrons  in motion.  Now that number only includes servers.  And Seitz says that if you wanna include the  chips in personal computers as well, the number’s  about 3 times larger.  But there’s a weight of the Internet that  impresses me a little bit more.

It’s a calculation not of the energy it takes  to serve the Internet, but the energy contained  in the actual information.  The videos, the pictures, the e-mails.  How much do they all collectively weigh when  stored?  Well, here’s the thing.  It takes about 8 billion electrons to store  one e-mail.  8 billion sounds like a lot, but electrons  are tiny and so one e-mail only weighs about  two ten-thousandths of a quadrillionth of  an ounce.

The Internet contains lots of e-mails  and it contains lots of video and images and  celebrity rumours, so how much does it weigh  altogether?  Well, the first question we have to ask is  how big is the Internet and that’s difficult  to calculate, but Eric Schmidt, then-CEO of  Google, once estimated that the entire Internet  contains about 5 million Terabytes of information,  of which, he said, Google has only indexed  0.004%. Okay, so not counting the energy it takes  to deliver the Internet, the information itself  on the Internet is about 5 million Terabytes.

Now, we know how many electrons it takes to  form a single byte and we know the mass of  an electron and so with a little bit of math  you can figure out that the entire Internet,  everything on it, collectively only weighs  millionths of an ounce.  Think of it this way: every single video on  YouTube, every single video across the entire  web, every single image, every single website,  every e-mail you’ve sent, every love  letter you’ve written, every photo of your  grandkids you’ve received is collectively  held within an amount of mass about the size  of the smallest possible grain of sand.

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