How much does the internet weigh?
You might be surprised to know that the internet has a weight. It doesn’t mean the combined weight of all computers in the world or the theoretical weight of the books needed to contain all the information at every single internet user’s fingertips 24/7. But it means the weight of the physical internet.
How does one go about weighing the internet?
You might think that a webpage weighs nothing. But it is wrong. Every single thing that exists on the internet, such as every site, video, document, file, email, comment, and keystroke consists of data. That data possesses both energy and physical mass. But obviously, a bit of data does not weigh a lot. Because its physical data mass is minuscule.
But since you can’t slack data on a scale and weigh it. You need another way to quantify its weight.
One of the first people to attempt to do so is a scientist called Dr.John Kubiatowicz. In 2011 Dr. John attempted to explain how the internet gains weight as it gains information.
To do so he used a Kindle as an example. He explained, a kindle works via a transistor that takes trapped electrons and uses them to tell the difference between the “1” and the “0” of binary code.
He further clarified, “Although the total number of electrons in the memory does not change as the stored data changes. The trapped electrons have higher energy.”
In other words, the more trapped electrons there are in an object, the more energy and mass you will find in that object. With that in mind, Dr. John estimated each bit of data to weigh roughly,
That’s a decimal point followed by 17, “0” s. Combining that with the world-famous, E=mc^2 equation. Dr.John concluded that the weight of a full kindle versus an empty one was a mere 0.0000000000000000001 grams.
However, if you downloaded a 13,000-page book, it would be for more. But that’s just one kindle. What about the entire internet as a whole.
Physicist Russel Seitz sought to weigh the internet once and for all. In 2011 he did just that presumably after figuring out all the physics of everything and needing something to do.
Seitz based his theory not on bits and bytes of data, but on the energy needed to run the internet. It’s a fact that server networks power the net. And those servers run on wattage. Seitz established that 100 million servers turned the internet into the lean mean overly opinionated troll machine that it is today.
Each server operates anywhere from 350 – 500 watts. Allowing the different servers utilizing different wattage amounts, Seitz estimated that it takes 40 billion watts in total, to power the internet. Then Seitz combines that figure with the fact that silicon logic gates take about 3 volts to run and that you need a gigahertz of energy to run a chip. Transferring the resulting joule weight to grams. Seitz concluded the internet weighs 50 grams. It is a weight of a large juicy strawberry.
But it still doesn’t answer the question of how much data within the internet weights?
The web is way more than a bunch of kindles. So, the former CEO of google attempted to figure out the answer.
In 2007 he estimated that the internet held roughly 5 million terabytes of information. Multiply that by how much we already know a piece of data weighs and we get a total combined weight of 0.2 millionth of an ounce. That’s basically nothing.
There is an issue with this estimate. It is gravely outdated. The internet has exploded in size and scale since 2007. According to some estimates the size of information inside doubles every five years. Other studies meanwhile have concluded around 90% of the internet data didn’t exist just two years ago.
As incredible as Mr.Schmidt’s math was in 2007. In 2021, it is outdated as Hotmail, Myspace, and the phrase Information SuperHighway. So how to definitively weigh something that is gaining weight at super speed?
The world probably uploaded at least a Terabyte of information, while you are reading this article. So, could any of the aspiring internet weighers possibly keep up?
The answer might be to calculate based on how big it can get. According to the Cisco visual networking index initiative, the internet does have a limit on how much data it can hold.
The limit is around 2 Zettabytes a year. Zettabyte equal to Billion Terabytes. Schmidt’s in 200 estimated the internet at a mere 1/400th capacity. probably because funny cats have not yet discovered youtube.
So let’s weigh the internet based on its estimated storage,
2 Zettabytes x 40,000 electrons in a bit (1 Electron = 9.1 x 10^ -31 kgs) = 5 ounces ( Total combined internet weight)
Combine that with the weight of the server energy needed to make the whole thing run. And it will be at a maximum weight of 6.75 ounces. It’s equal to the weight of half a can of coke.
Amazingly, despite the wealth of information already available and the massive amount added all the time, we’re likely not even close to hitting the internet limit. It is a good thing. Isn’t it. So if you want something to go viral on the internet, you’re going to need all 6.75 ounces of internet.