Strawberries

Spire Digital
Jan 7, 2015

Here’s a deep thought for 2015 — the Internet weighs as much as a strawberry.

That’s what Harvard geophysicist Russell Seitz determined using a somewhat contrived set of atomic assumptions. According to others, the Internet weighs even less, as much as a grain of sand.

Me, I have no idea how much it weighs. I do know it’s extremely big. Really, any assessment of the size of the Internet must take into account the users. Without users, there is no Internet.

By recent estimates, nearly 3 billion people are online. I’m pretty sure they weigh more than every strawberry on earth, though probably not as much as every grain of sand.

Users are everywhere. Believe it or not, only about 10% are in North America. Nearly half are in Asia. 20% are in Europe. Africa’s user base should surpass North America’s within the next few years. Similar gains should be seen in the Middle East too.

In all these continents, and countries and cities and towns, the Internet is different things to different people…

In remote villages in Kenya and Namibia, the Internet is most often accessed using SIM cards and shared mobile phones, enabling global communication via email, Skype, and WhatsApp. In oppressive countries like Syria and Cuba, it’s a change agent, igniting debate and organizing revolution through Twitter and Facebook. In India and Estonia and Bolivia, with Elance and oDesk, it allows people to earn a fair wage in fields that might not otherwise be marketable in their countries.

For the the deaf and blind, the Internet is an accessible world where they can experience life unencumbered by the limitations of the offline world. For sufferers of chronic or terminal illnesses, it provides invaluable support and resources that limit suffering and improve quality of life. For people with autism, it serves as a realm of customizable learning and interaction that never before existed for them.

Scientists are using connected devices to go where no human has gone and may never go. Anthropologists and psychologists are using online surveys to gather important data from huge pools of subjects. Doctors are using private social networks to share findings and case studies to solve the mysteries of medicine as a united force.

Criminologists are using online databases to compare DNA and ultimately make it harder to get away with committing crimes. Musicians and artists are using collaborative tools to bring together the best of the best, regardless of location, to produce masterpieces.

Who knew a strawberry was so versatile? Who knew a grain of sand was so vast? People give the Internet its weight and its magnitude. What’s crazy is that more than half of the world isn’t even online yet. As more people get online, we’ll see more Arab Springs and more Flappy Birds¬†and more Congolese miracles. We’re still only scratching the surface. And that’s pretty heavy!