Emails, photos, e-books, business presentations, movies, music; human beings on the Internet are constantly creating digital content. Even when we are just consuming, our online behavior is registered somewhere, leaving a digital trace. And all this information is stored somewhere for an indefinite time.
By some estimates, humanity is creating in the order of 1018 bytes per day, or the equivalent of 33 million 4k movies. And that number doubles approximately every two years. This means that it will quadruple in four years, increase eight-fold in six years, sixteen-fold in eight years, and so on and so forth. That’s many millions of movies.
Can this number increase forever? All information resides somewhere in the physical world, and we cannot break the laws of physics. Let’s imagine a storage device capable of storing one byte per atom. If the current growth trend holds, by the year 2216 we will produce around 1050 bytes per day. That corresponds approximately to the number of atoms in our planet. We clearly cannot turn the entire planet into a storage device!
Maybe we can avoid that limit by creating a storage device in outer space, using materials from other planets. But even ignoring the practical difficulties, like the fact that an object with that mass would affect our orbit around the sun, we only need to wait two more centuries until our hunger for information reaches the astrological number of 1080 bytes per day. Why is that number relevant? Because it is the number of atoms in the observable universe.