Global Data Consumption? 9,570,000,000,000,000,000,000 Bytes

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The world’s computers crunch through 9,570,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of data every year.

That’s 9.57 zettabytes. One zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power, or a million million gigabytes.

And if you still can’t get your head around that kind of number (I know I can’t), let’s convert it into average-sized books.

In book form, our planet’s annual data consumption would be a stack of books 5.6 billion miles high – enough to stretch all the way to Neptune, and back again. Twenty times.

Believe it or not, it’s not all Twitter and Facebook updates, either. According to the researchers at the University of California in San Diego who came up with these numbers, the vast majority of this data is invisible to humans. Most of it is the data computers use while crunching something else. It gets calculated and quickly deleted. Humans – thank goodness – only ever get to see a tiny fraction of it.

That’s even more of a relief when you realise that the research is based on numbers gathered in 2008. Data consumption is growing all the time, so right now it’s probably way beyond Neptune.

By 2024, say the team, our planet’s computers will be getting through enough data every year to build a stack of books as far as the next star, Alpha Centauri, 4.37 light years away.

Even it most of it is transient data, it’d still be good to know how much of it is social network updates. Just how far into space would they stretch on their own?