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.
That is a very interesting post! I have never thought about the quantity of words such huge context before. In fact, I don´t think I´ve either thought about this in relations with the internet. As obvious as it should be in a way. My main reading happens there nowadays. Thank you for bringing me out of the box. Again! 🙂 “Cent mille milliards de poèmes“ sounds fascinating. Do you have it?
Excellent post! It is amazing that our cognitive equipment can find ways to compute such large problems!
I would point out that the number of words on the Internet may someday meet a penultimate amount! I suspect this would be the maximum amount of information the Universe can contain.