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The Internet Weighs As Much As a Strawberry

The Internet Weighs As Much As a Strawberry
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Well, actually as much as a big, plump strawberry according to calculations made a few years ago by physicist Russell Seitz.

Shortly after Seitz explained how — despite the Internet using up lots of energy (about 50,000,000 horsepower) — it only weighs about two ounces, Discover magazine’s Stephen Cass did his own calculations and estimated the internet to be far lighter, weighing in something more akin to a grain of salt.

But as†NPR’s Robert Krulwich points out, for all that the internet is “practically weightless,” consider its very weighty power:

When those electrons produce an image of a young woman lying shot in the street in downtown Tehran, shot by a sniper, falling to the ground, dead, that picture may weigh next to nothing, but the hundreds of thousands of people who see it are altered, literally changed, by what they’ve seen….

Once things are seen and shared, people react, people gather, people march, people fight, and sometimes figures of enormous weight, a Gadhafi, a Mubarak, even a Putin can be toppled, or shaken.

The virtual, digital community that many of us live in has been criticized as an inadequate substitute for real experience and actual social interactions. But as evidenced again and again in 2011, the digital forces of the internet can be channeled to create real world — political — change.

How To Calculate the Weight of the Internet

You’re probably asking, how can the internet, a seemingly infinite sea of content circulating on 75 to 100 million servers, weigh anything? As Cass details, figuring out the weight of the internet requires understanding nothing less than

… the essential process that controls all the information passing through it, whether you are talking about an e-mail being sent across the street or a video feed from a†Webcam on the other side of the world. In order to travel across the Internet, information is broken down into packetsólittle gobbets of data ranging from a few dozen to over a thousand bytes in size. As well as the information being transmitted, the packet also contains addressing details that routersócomputers dedicated to moving data aroundóuse to determine where the packets should go.

Whatever type of “message” is transmitted, it is stored in the memory of your computer, analyzed to determine its next destination, encoded, sent to “the next computer in the chain” and then decoded. This entire process is then repeated “as often as necessary.” But the actual physical objects — electrons, radio waves — transmitting the message only travel a distance of about a few hundred feet before being taken up by another computer; what does travel far is the bit pattern of 1′s and 0′s.

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6:18AM PST on Dec 27, 2011

Thanks for posting.

1:04AM PST on Dec 26, 2011

Thanks for the article.

5:51PM PST on Dec 23, 2011

Thanks for this

4:52PM PST on Dec 23, 2011

Mmmm... i want stawberries!

5:25AM PST on Dec 23, 2011

all wrong. the internet is made of cats

9:35PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

If it were weightless, it shouldnt be leaving carbon footprint.

8:45PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

Well there's a lot that makes up the internet from the wires, to the computers on which the internet runs and so on.

5:46PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

Fascinating. Thanks Kristina.

5:35PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

Wow, I didn't get this at all, but OK.

2:39PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

I love stuff like this. Powerful, powerful tool for the people. May the dictators, greedy business people, crooked politicians, etc., beware.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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