So I'm spending this weekend packing all of my worldly possessions. Here you see a stack of boxes containing only data. If you exclude the furniture and my motorcycle, they represent about half of the mass of my things.
That's 40 boxes of text-only books, 6 boxes of comics, and 3 boxes of DVDs and music. Understand, these are things that have survived numerous purges, because I loved them, or knew I would refer to them again, or had such a hard time finding in the first place that I don't dare let them go now.
Each text only box contains about 40 books, averaging maybe 350 pages at 500 words a page. Converted to ASCII, the simplest way of representing text, that's roughly 1.5 gigabytes. I could fit that on the USB drive I carry on my keychain that I bought for about the price of a meal at a nice restaraunt. It's also about half of what Google will store for me for free in my Gmail account, which is just a place for keeping email.
I know I had seven shelves of comics (plus some art books we can squeeze into the count). The complete run of Sandman fills about half a shelf. Sandman ran 75 issues of 25 pages (counting the covers) making 1875 pages. Uh, not counting the Annual, various little specials, and The Dream Hunters, so call it a round 2000 pages for Sandman. Double that, then multiply by seven shelves, and you get about 30,000 pages of comics. One could debate how much data you need to represent a comics page. Let's imagine a compression algorhythm optimized for the comics page (someone must have developed one by now, right?) and we might do a good job at maybe 200K. So that's about 6 gigs for the comics.
You can't quite fit that onto a keychain flash drive. It's a bit more than you can get onto a DVD, too, which maxes out at 4.7 gigs.
Speaking of which, I've got maybe 150 feature films and almost 20 seasons of network television on DVD. That's about 300 hours of TV and another 300 hours of features, at a little over a gig an hour, completely dwarfing my bulkier and much heavier other data.
I expect that someday I will show this post to the children of my neice or nephew, who will ask me something about how obviously I had access to the 'net when I made this post, since I posted it there. So why go to all of the trouble of carting around these heavy books that aren't indexed with metadata, aren't searchable, aren't available when I'm away from my apartment ... ?
I'll say something about how displays were crappy in those days, and lots of data still wasn't stored electronically, and there was still trouble with bandwidth, and blah blah blah. I suspect that I'll sound to this kid like one of those wild-eyed old men in a dystopian '60s science fiction movie, ranting about how real knowledge isn't found in computers, it's in books, I tell you! Books!
Then I'll tell the kid how when I was her age, my teacher would write on the classroom wall with a piece of rock. Really!