Too Much Information

October 28: Over 1400 years ago, Chinese scholar Hiuan Tsang travelled thousands of miles from his home to reach the city of Nalanda in Bihar. His objective was to study precious Buddhist manuscripts at the University of Nalanda, which was famed in those days for its library of Buddhist manuscripts. In the process, he also recorded his observations of seventh century India, and this remains one of the most valuable sources of information on the land during that age.

History is full of examples of lovers of knowledge like Hiuan Tsang, braving long journeys, to arrive at distant and unknown lands to study precious texts. No other option was available to them, then.

But had Hiuan Tsang lived today, he could have studied the manuscripts sitting in his home. And all because of the internet.

The internet has made possible an enormous amount of information to be accessible from anywhere in the world. It is no longer necessary to travel somewhere to get information. Now a click of the mouse will get it for you, right in your living room. Thanks to the internet, the world is now a global village.

However, besides a shrinking world, the internet has created another, less attractive legacy: an information overload. It has created an explosion in the amount of data available around the world, leaving people “drowning in a sea of information”.

These are the findings of a study by the University of California at Berkeley. A report on the findings appeared in The Hindustan Times newspaper. According to the study, the world produces 250 million megabytes of data for every person in the world. You’ll have to fill computer floppy disks stacked to the moon eight times over, to store all of it.

A byte is the smallest operable unit of storage in computer technology. A byte can represent the equivalent of a single character, such as the letter b, a comma, or a percentage sign; or it can represent a number from 0 to 255. Because a byte contains so little information, the processing and storage capacities of computer hardware are usually given in kilobytes (1,024 bytes) or megabytes (1,048,576 bytes). Still larger capacities are expressed in gigabytes (about one billion bytes) and terabytes (one trillion bytes).

More than 90 % of the information is stored in digital form in some computer device. More than half of the digitally stored material is produced by the United States of America alone. If put on the internet, the information could be accessible to all. As a result of this, it will be difficult to monopolise information or knowledge in the new age, as powerful groups were wont to do in the past.

But, as the study has highlighted, there is a problem in finding all of the information. Much of it is in the “dark web” portion of the Internet that is not catalogued by search engines. And because it is not catalogued, people can’t find it either. The study emphasizes the need for good search tools that could dig out this information.

The study concludes that while it has taken 300,000 years for humans to accumulate 12 exabytes ( an exabyte is a billion gigabytes ) of information, it will take just 2.5 more years to create the next 12 exabytes. It’s up to us to manage the information in the best way possible. “It is clear that we are drowning in a sea of information”, adds the report. “The challenge is to learn to swim in that sea, rather then drown in it.”

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