It is impossible to accurately describe the precise size of the internet. For one thing, much of it is inaccessible to the public. For another, it grows at an impressively-fast speed (approximately 70 terabytes per second). Based on some extrapolation, however, the estimated size of everything that we know as “the internet” is approximately 14,691,300 petabytes, as of February 28, 2019.
What does this mean in plain language? Consider these basic units of computer memory:
Bit: A bit is the smallest unit of computer memory storage. It is, essentially, either a 1 or a zero.
Byte: A byte consists of 8 bits. It is enough memory to hold one typed character.
Kilobyte (KB): about 1 thousand bytes. 100 kilobytes is needed to hold a low-resolution photograph.
Megabyte (MB): about 1 million bytes. At this point, things begin to lose their significance, unless we put them in context. Keeping in mind that one byte represents one character, a megabyte is the rough equivalent of 250 pages of single-spaced text. With 935,763 letters, Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick represents just about one megabyte. The complete works of Shakespeare can fit in about 5 megabytes. 500 megabytes is the size of a CD-ROM.
Gigabyte (GB): about 1 billion bytes/1,000 MB. If you are interested in storing books in computer memory, and your taste in reading is for volumes of average length, rather than Moby Dick‘s massive size, a gigabyte might serve your needs. When it comes to books of 300 pages, with about 200 words per page, a gigabyte could hold 3,334 books before running out of space.
Terabyte (TB): about 1 trillion bytes/1,000 GB. Take those trillion letters and write them down with one millimeter of space between them, and it would give you a line of text 1 million kilometers long — enough to wrap around the earth 25 times.
Petabyte (PB): 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes/1,000 TB. The floppy was the storage medium of the legendary Commodore 64 in the 1980s. It held 174,848 bytes. 2.8 billion of those floppy disks (36,889 tons in weight) would fit into one petabyte. The internet expands by one petabyte every 14 seconds. Two petabytes would hold the collections of all academic research libraries in the United States.
Exabyte (EB): 1 quintillion bytes/1,000 PB. If you need extra space for storing your movie collection, consider getting a 1 EB drive. It would hold 212 million DVD’s, thus allowing you to get rid of 3,404 tons of media.
Zettabyte (ZB): 1 sextillion bytes/1,000 EB. Printed on graph paper (with one letter in each square millimeter box) 1 ZB would be a paper measuring a billion kilometers. This would allow you to cover the entire surface of the earth twice.
Yottabyte (YB): 1 septillion bytes/1,000 ZB. At current growth rates, this will be the size of the internet in 2030. With this amount of data, it wouldl be possible to hold video recordings of the lives of all of the people on Earth, from birth until death.
Read more fun facts about large numbers.
Read more fun facts about computers.