How Cool is Data? Part I

Technology is a modern marvel, that much is certain, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were remarkably far behind where we are today. Let’s take a look at data and examine how something so small can be something so incredibly important to the modern business world.

What is Data, Exactly?

Back before there were modern computers and smartphones, the best data storage method was the book. A novel generally holds anywhere between 60,000 to 110,000 words, with large epics being exceptions to the rule. To break down just how much data this is, examine the typical text message. A text message holds a maximum of 160 characters, and you can squeeze about 1-3 sentences into that on average. Characters in the English language are 7 bits apiece, each represented by a 1 or a 0. “A” translates to 01000001, and “B” is 01000010.

What does this have to do with data? We’ll get there; don’t worry.

The total amount of data a message can hold is 1120 bits, or 1120 ones and zeroes, and there are 8 bits in a byte, meaning that a text message is 140 bytes. There are 1,000,000 bytes in 1 Megabyte, and with the average word being about five characters, a novel could range anywhere from 300,000 to 555,000 characters. Multiplying this by 7 for the number of bits in a character, then dividing this by 8 for the number of bits in a byte, leaves us with 481,250 bytes, or 0.48125 Megabytes.

A large book could hold around half a Megabyte’s worth of information, then when you add in the other hidden data like metadata, the cover, and other information, your typical ebook should be about 1 Megabyte in size. You can imagine this is higher if there are illustrations or images involved, too.

How Much Data Fits in a Library

With some books being much, much larger than your typical novel—namely textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, reference books, and so on, you can imagine that these files would be larger, too. For the purposes of this article, let’s round up to assume, on average, that a book would be about 1 Megabyte.

Now, your typical library holds between 5,000 and 500,000 books, with some of the world’s largest libraries housing millions. The US Library of Congress, for example, holds more than 51 million books, 25 million manuscripts, and millions of other items. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say that the 51 million books are all text-based, then calculate how much data that would be.

51 million Megabytes is 51 thousand Gigabytes, which is 51 Terabytes. 1-2 Terabyte drives are common for everyday PC use, so you would expect to hold the entire Library of Congress’ book collection on 25 home computers. Pretty wild stuff.

Mobile devices with these capabilities are still a way’s off, but we bet that the near future will show just what they are capable of.

Of course, we are just assuming text is being stored here. If you wanted to scan each individual image, you’re looking at close to 8 Megabytes per book, and a total of 408 Terabytes to store in the Library of Congress. You’d need more than a room full of workstations for that kind of storage.

How Much Data Your Organization is Responsible For

Next time, we’ll talk about how much data the average human being produces, as well as the amount of data your business stores every day. Be sure to subscribe or bookmark this site so you can come back and learn more about the wonders of data storage.

November 14, 2022
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