The Photo Flood
November 15, 2011
Last week, I wrote about information theory and the digital revolution it brought about. The amount of information being created and available to anyone with an Internet connection is so vast that it’s difficult to visualize. While poking around the Internet this past weekend, I came across an interesting story that gives us a concrete idea of just how much information is being created every day.
The digital camera has revolutionized the world of photography. No longer is one limited by the need to buy and develop film. The vast majority of photographs now exist only in digital form, without any physical presence in the form of prints. These photographs exist only as ones and zeroes in the datasphere. The camera phone has been the single biggest contributor to the explosive growth of digital photography, since people almost always have their phone on hand to snap a picture of any event, no matter how mundane.
Just how fast is the tide of photographs rising? Every 2 minutes, more photographs are taken than were taken in the entire 19th century. To make the flood of photographs now being created tangible, artist Erik Kessels created an art installation at the Foam Gallery in Amsterdam that consists of prints of every photograph uploaded to the popular photo-sharing site Flickr in a single 24-hour period. The exhibit consists of over 1 million photographs, piled in huge drifts spanning multiple rooms. One can literally wade through the waist high drifts of photographs. But this is only a drop in the digital image sea. Flickr’s collection of over 6 billion photographs isn’t the largest repository of photography on the Internet. That honor belongs to Facebook, with an estimated 140 billion photographs. Every day, over 200 million photographs are posted to Facebook.
Based on these numbers and some back of the envelope calculations, here’s a way to visualize your relationship to the volume of photographs uploaded to the datasphere. Take an empty Olympic-sized (164’ x 82’ x 7’, or about 88,000 ft3) swimming pool. Every time a photograph is uploaded to the Internet, print a 4" x 6" x 10 mil copy of it and throw it in the pool. In two and a half days, the pool will be filled. Now jump in. Welcome to the photo flood. It's only going to get deeper.
Image credit: Photo Mosaic by Flickr user Alex Campos ♂ via Flickr's Creative CommonsTags: photography