Word powers of ten


How do we understand the number of words on the internet? Its hard to even grasp how many there are, and the number is growing so rapidly. Trying to understand a similar problem, the size of the universe (or just the observable universe) Charles and Ray Eames came up with the classic Powers of Ten video. Lets try the same for words:

1 (one) word
10 (ten) words a haiku, a sentence or a tweet

100 (hundred) words a paragraph, an abstract, a newsitem

1000 (thousand) words an article or blogpost

10,000 (ten thousand) words an essay or short story

100,000 (hundred thousand) words a book

1,000,000 (million) words an epic, Proust’s “A la recherche de temps perdu” is 1.5 million, the complete Harry Potter Saga is just over 1 million.

10,000,000 (ten million) words  an Encyclopedia, the 2002 Britannica is 44 million

100,000,000 (hundred million) words  a large Encyclopedia, like the Yongle Encyclopedia from fifteenth century China

1,000,000,000 (billion) words  Wikipedia (actually over twice that)

Then there is a gap…

10,000,000,000 (ten billion) words

100,000,000,000 (hundred billion) words

1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) words

10,000,000,000,000 (ten trillion) words

100,000,000,000,000 (hundred trillion) words gives you the internet in 2008

So perhaps soon the internet will surpass the work of a single man. The great french author Raymond Queneaux:

10,000,000,000,000,000 (ten thousand trillion, ten thousand million million, ten million billion) words  the word count (assuming 10 words per line) of the complete text of “Cent mille milliards de poèmes

Having exploded outwards, it is not time to come back down, through encyclopedias, books and stories, back to tweets and the word:

1/10 (tenth) of a word a letter

1/100 (hundredth) of a word gives you a line segment which has an interesting property, it can itself be divided.

1/1000 (thousandth) of a word gives you a shorter line segment, allowing you to dive as deeply as you wish theoretically, in practice you will dive surprisingly quickly through atoms, protons, neutrons and quarks to the lower limits of our understanding.

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