Both the scale and the acceleration of information production and dissemination in our digital age are unique.
Last year The Economist published a special report not on the global financial crisis or the polarization of the American electorate, but on the era of big data. Article after article cited one big number after another to bolster the claim that we live in an age of information superabundance. The data are impressive: 300 billion emails, 200 million tweets, and 2.5 billion text messages course through our digital networks every day, and, if these numbers were not staggering enough, scientists are reportedly awash in even more information. This past January astronomers surveying the sky with the Sloan telescope in New Mexico released over 49.5 terabytes of information—a mass of images and measurements—in one data drop. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), however, produces almost that much information per second. Last year alone, the world’s information base is estimated to have doubled every eleven hours. Just a decade ago, computer professionals spoke of kilobytes and megabytes. Today they talk of the terabyte, the petabyte, the exabyte, the zettabyte, and now the yottabyte, each a thousand times bigger than the last.