The information worker is frequently slinging data back and forth in an around-the-clock, rapid-fire, 24/7 fashion – or at least has the opportunity to do so. But have you seen the fluorescent glows of cell phones pop up in darkened theaters like lightning bugs on a warm summer night? Ever noticed the driver next to you steering with his knees while he takes a call? Ever see someone pummel a miniature keyboard so violently you wonder if she will eventually regret hitting the send button?

It seems the only respite to being bombarded with cell phone calls and responding to email is on a flight. However, that sanctuary may soon be “wired” as well.

We are more connected that ever, but are we better informed? Sure, we can surf the web for information on the latest Asian tsunami at the local java emporium and keep up on email while traversing construction barrels on I-96. What does that gain us? When does being “in the loop” stop being productive? Is the “always connected, always accountable” status healthy? Is it possible our senses – and sense of private space – are dulled by the constant exposure to information, as well as the assumed responsibility to acknowledge and reply to every message?

Consider this: The University of California at Berkley’s School of Information Management and Systems conducted a study of the of the amount of information the world produced in various media in 2003. According to the study, in 2000 the volume of information on the Web was estimated to be 20-50 Terabytes. In 2003 that had grown to 167 terabytes – three times the amount of only 3 years before.

Each day a whopping 31 billion emails are sent. That volume is expected to double by 2006. And that doesn’t include broadcast, newspapers, Instant Messaging or several other media that barrage our subconscious on a near constant basis.

It only seems like all of that information is building up in your inbox and our collective psyches. The fact is, you cannot absorb it all, no one can.

How Big is an Exabyte?

Kilobyte (KB)

1,000 bytes OR 103bytes
2 Kilobytes: A Typewritten page.
100 Kilobytes: A low-resolution photograph.

Megabyte (MB)

1,000,000 bytes OR 106 bytes
1 Megabyte: A small novel OR a 3.5 inch floppy disk.
2 Megabytes: A high-resolution photograph.
5 Megabytes: The complete works of Shakespeare.
10 Megabytes: A minute of high-fidelity sound.
100 Megabytes: 1 meter of shelved books.
500 Megabytes: A CD-ROM.

Gigabyte (GB)

1,000,000,000 bytes OR 109 bytes
1 Gigabyte: a pickup truck filled with books.
20 Gigabytes: A good collection of the works of Beethoven.
100 Gigabytes: A library floor of academic journals.

Terabyte (TB)

1,000,000,000,000 bytes OR 1012 bytes
1 Terabyte: 50000 trees made into paper and printed.
2 Terabytes: An academic research library.
10 Terabytes: The print collections of the U.S. Library of Congress.
400 Terabytes:

National

Climactic

Data

Center

(NOAA) database.

Petabyte (PB)

1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes OR 1015 bytes
1 Petabyte: 3 years of EOS data (2001).
2 Petabytes: All

U.S.

academic research libraries.
20 Petabytes: Production of hard-disk drives in 1995.
200 Petabytes: All printed material.

Exabyte (EB)

1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes OR 1018 bytes
2 Exabytes: Total volume of information generated in 1999.
5 Exabytes: All words ever spoken by human beings.

Source: Many of these examples were taken from Roy Williams “Data Powers of Ten” web page at Caltech.

The fact is, with communication more unrelenting and pervasive that ever, we need to rethink the value of constant availability.

To get a fresh perspective, to have an uncluttered and fixed focus on communication, it may be best to disengage occasionally and unhook from the “wired” world.

To paraphrase Timothy Leary, “Tune out, turn off, drop in”.

The occasional unwired environment could create the solitude needed to provide a fresh, thoughtful perspective with original thinking.  It’s not the quantity of thinking that matters; it’s the quality.

Look what Shakespeare accomplished with a mere five megs!

–Patrick McLaughlin