The Old, the New and the Data

Facebook connections around the globe

I have not ended the Hacking the NXT Series yet, I just thought I would take a break for a second!
Sitting in the tube on the way back from the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, where I did the light design and operation for a show my school put on there, Standing in the Light (more on that in a possible separate post), I was pondering over the idea of data.
Now, you might think that only a nerd would ponder something like that. I mean, data is kind of boring, right? Well, it depends on what you thought what I meant with data. Allow me to elaborate. If you were thinking about an Excel spreadsheet with numbers representing some businesses numbers, yes, that is boring, but if you were thinking of it on the larger scale of things, it becomes much, much more interesting.
Think about it. Have you uploaded a video to YouTube, posted a picture to Facebook or Tweeted a thought? You have created and moved data. Simple. One may also argue that every physical object, be it micro or macro, has data: it’s position is 3 dimensional space as we observe it (unless it’s a quantum particle…), its age (time is actually another dimension), mass, weight, dimensions, interactions, temperature, density and anything else you can think of. So, in that sense, data is everywhere. 
The thought then came to me, having recently discussed the astounding YouTube statistic with a few friends, that 72 hour of video is uploaded every minute. This site puts it all in perspective. I then thought of my uncle’s really old Sony Vaio computer, with a 33MB hard drive with less than 50MB RAM. For those without basic hardware knowledge, that’s like the Wright Brothers plane compared to a Boeing 737-800. 
Ok, that might be exaggerating a bit, but you get the picture. How a computer with those specs could run a decent operating system astounded me. After all, I am used to a 500GB (that’s 512,000MB) solid state drive with 8GB RAM and a 2.23GHz i5 Intel processor. What caused this massive jump? Well, our computers got better. That’s it. We figured out how to pack more bits and transistors into the same space, but thats processing power. What still interested me was why we needed larger capacity hard drives and solid state drives. It is at this point where I came up with (although I am not too sure if somebody else has already done so) the term “Data Inflation”.

This was my answer to the question of why we were individually creating more data. By “inflation”, I don’t mean that in the economic sense, that data is becoming less valuable, on the contrary, it is becoming more valuable with businesses set up to solely deal with “big data” and all that nonsense. Instead, I mean it in the sense of a new social mindset, the fact that we are creating data without a second thought, whereas previously one would have to be weary of the amount of data you could create and store sustainably.
Another reason for this could also be the whole “Internet of Things” craze, where physical sensors and objects are connected to the Internet. These all create data. Take, for example, Alex Forey’s Shwiing, a way of getting ones Arduino to graph results off a sensor and tweet them, or that is at least what I have taken it to be. The fact that more and more of the real world data, like we discussed earlier, is going online and digital means that our computers need to be able to read and store so much more than my uncles old Vaio. My 2009 MacBook Pro has 8 temperature sensors, a light sensor, a camera, a microphone and an accelerometer, I mean, that’s amazing, right?
Data inflation is also the direct result of many new uses a computer has nowadays. Instead of it being used to program and work on documents, one can use it to play videos, listen to music, browse the web, communicate, play games and so much more. That all creates data, and lots of it! One standard definition iTunes movie creates on average 1.5GB of data. That would instantly exhaust the memory on my uncles old Vaio.
And it’s not over.
I remember when I had a 100GB hard drive. That was more than enough back in 2006/7, but now, I am struggling to fit it all into a 300GB hard drive! We are all creating more and more data at an exponential rate, and as more uses for computers evolve, more physical objects get connected and the social mindset of continuous data creation becomes ingrained into the following generations, more data is going to be created.
There are two things I would like to clarify before I conclude this post. I have tried to refer to it as “data creation” and not “data consumption” or “data usage”, as the days of us being idle consumers are long gone, it’s just companies like NBC not broadcasting a live stream of the Olympic opening ceremony or HBO not allowing The Oatmeal to watch “A Game of Thrones” online being ignorant to the change. We create data, and when we legally download a video, we create a copy of it on our local memory. Creation, not consumption, is where it is at!
The other thing is that I have referred to “computers” throughout the post. I generally don’t like the term “Post-PC” devices, such as the iPad, due to the very definition of Personal Computer, but when I say “computer” it should be taken to include these as well. I am even experiencing data inflation with my iPhone. I used to be able to comfortably have all my media and then some on my 16GB iPhone, now I have to seriously consider getting a 32 or even a 64GB iPhone at my next upgrade in 2 years time. It’s annoying, especially when Apple charge an extra £100 for the extra 16GB.
Back to the YouTube statistic, just thinking about it, they must be buying hard drives faster than they can be made! It seems as though hard drives, both internal and external (and solid state drives) are becoming ubiquitous within every modern household. Remember the Taiwan floods, limiting the supply of hard drives? The prices shot up within days of the news breaking, to the extent that my dad ordered my Christmas present, a FireWire enabled hard drive, in October.
There are only so many transistors and bits you can fit onto a single surface. I am looking forward to what astounding technology scientists are going to come up with next. 
Wait, maybe that’s something I could do… 
We shall see.
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