Oodles of people and bytes
I’m sure I’ve seen the stats before, several times, but still I was disconcerted when I read this paragraph:
As of mid-1981, according to Steve Bloom, author of Video Invaders, more than four billion quarters had been dropped into Space Invaders WP games around the world — that’s roughly “one game per earthling.”
B. Shneiderman WP, Direct manipulation: A step beyond programming languages
Four billion quarters seemed a wild guess, but four billion people? In 1981? Surely there was something wrong with the reference. But there wasn’t. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that was the approximate number of people only 25 years ago.
More alarming still, my dad was born in 1957. World population was around 3 billion then. We’re 6.5 billion now and counting. That is, my parents’ lifetime has seen the world population double — 3.5 billion new souls.
I had surely seen a similar graph several times before but somehow it never got through my thick skull. I was overjoyed to realize just to what extent the world had changed in less than 50 years. Frankly, I believe I’ve found the proof I’d been looking for that the world is getting better. Isn’t it unambiguously a good thing that 3.5 billion people have been able to be born? Yes, many will live in what are to us abysmal conditions. But there is no worst quality of life than not being able to live in the first place. Death is always an option, life is not. Most of this growth comes from the poorest classes of the poorest countries but that’s also heartening in a way. There was never before reason to counteract the “ignorance” that made them try to have as many children as they physically could — it wasn’t ignorance at the time, it was bet-splitting. Most of them died anyway.
Never have so many children had the luxury of extreme poverty, to put it bluntly.
The other number shock today was from a talk by Google’s Marissa Mayer, platonic love and Google’s VP of search products and user experience:
[Starting around minute 3.25:] Most people are familiar with the concept that computers get faster all the time, they get about twice as fast every two years. It’s a law inside of computer science. But it turns out the same thing is happening with hard drives. So, around every thirteen months you can store as much information in the same amount of space on a hard drive, because the technology has advanced. Which means that every ten years you can store a thousand times as much information. So I thought I would again try and give you a sense of, in everyday form, how much content that is or how much this could change things. What this means is that if you consider a typical iPod, which today can hold tens of thousands of songs, [it] means that something the size of an iPod could actually, in the year 2012, carry an entire year of video on it, playing nonstop without repeats. By 2015 it could have all commercial music ever produced. Imagine buying an iPod where all the music is already loaded on it and you just decide what you want to access. By 2019 it could carry an entire lifetime of video in the palm of your hand, 85 years worth of video will be able to fit in an iPod. And by somewhere in the years 2020 you’ll be able to have every content ever created, sitting in the palm of your hand. Hhmmm…huuumm. Hhmmm…huuumm.
Again, I’ve played with such numbers before. It’s just they had never hit me so hard.