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What Do Billions of Gigabytes of Invisible Data Look Like?

By Greenfield/Belser
July 10, 2015
What Do Billions of Gigabytes of Invisible Data Look Like?

Sometimes, when you’re dealing with a large number of objects, it’s hard to imagine the number as a concrete thing. Try to envision one million feathers. What do they look like? What about one billion feathers? Wrapping your mind around something concrete can be difficult, but sensing how big something abstract, such as data, looks like can be even more difficult. In order to get a sense of the amount of data the U.S. economy stores each year, in gigabytes (GB), The Atlantic magazine (sponsored by Seagate) created a visual model.

The model, titled The Invisible Infrastructure, breaks down the U.S. economy into sectors (manufacturing, construction, etc.) by color-coding them into blocks of spinning points. Each point signifies a gigabyte of data that is stored by that sector. Choose which sectors to view by either highlighting or un-highlighting each from the list on the left, or view them all at once. Clicking on an individual colored, floating cube will give you a pop out box listing industries that fall under each sector and other related information. The feature on the right of the model allows the user to zoom in or out depending on which view they prefer. Scroll all the way to the bottom to dive right into the heart of the sea of data and see what it looks like to be among billions of plotted points.

The model serves as a fantastic aid for something that might otherwise be impossible to visualize. Check out what the U.S. economy looks like in data today (there are currently 34,350,488,760 GBs of information stored) and how it is perceived to look in the years to come.