Humanity's stored data measured in CDs to the Moon
Or books blanketing China, if you prefer
The BBC has splendidly reported that all of the data we accumulated between 1986 and 2007 on PCs, DVDs and good old-fashioned paper would, if slapped on CDs, create a megastack of discs "that would reach beyond the Moon".
Yes indeed, the distance to the International Space Station measured in stacked dollar coins just doesn't cut it for the meaty 295 exabytes of data goodness we managed to amass in 21 years.
So, let's try to imagine how many Wales that info would cover, were it preserved in book form. The answer is a lot, because we're talking about so many books that researchers have been forced to deploy the China.
Dr Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California explained to the Beeb: "If we were to take all that information and store it in books, we could cover the entire area of the US or China in 13 layers of books."
Sadly, Hilbert was unable to quantify the weight of this paper blanket in London Eyes, or how many Olympic-size swimming pools it might fill, but was able to summarise it as enough to pack "1.2 billion average hard drives".
If you really must know, Hilbert's team estimated the data held on "60 analogue and digital technologies during the period from 1986 to 2007", including "everything from computer hard drives to obsolete floppy discs, and x-ray films to microchips on credit cards".
Another enlightening result of Hilbert's work is that during the same period "we broadcast around two zettabytes of data (a zettabyte is 1000 exabytes)".
The BBC concludes that this is "the equivalent of 175 newspapers per person, per day", but leaves it to readers to do the "X Chinas to Y depth" calculation for this weight of newsprint. ®
Not sure why they're using this stupid newfangled China measurement, when they even then have to say it would be a stack 14 books tall! They may as well say it would cover Wales in stacks hundreds of books tall instead, thereby using the standard accepted unit of measurement.
Nowhere near enough imagination
All this talk of books and CDs just does not get a feel for the size of that number.
If punched onto paper tape (10cpi), it would reach 80 light-years to here: http://media.caltech.edu/press_releases/13316
It would take a trillion years to read that tape on an ASR-33, which is unfortunate, since the universe probably doesn't have that long to wait.
Since normal reading speed is about the same as an ASR-33, If, since 1 AD, everyone in the world had been given a different part of it, to read out continuously their entire life, 24 hours a day, we would be finishing it around now. (Assuming an average world pop. of 300M until 1800)
but the de-dupe will take to the end of time