Saturday, November 12, 2005

Jaw-dropping Technology -- Follow-up

I'm not sure if I communicated the point I was trying to elucidate with my Jaw-dropping Technology post. I closed it with the line:

I long for the day I can buy a petabyte iPod for $50.

I was going to say "terabyte" iPod in the sentence above, but then I figured, why skimp? A terabyte is one thousand gigabytes (the biggest capacity iPod at the moment holds 60 gigabytes). A petabyte is one thousand terabytes, or one million gigabytes.

It turns out I'm glad I changed it, because already today some prognosticator predicted the release within five years of a terabyte iPod. I wouldn't have wanted my own vision to be so pedestrian.

It's now perfectly clear that powerful new technologies empower us in ways we absolutely can NOT predict. A terabyte iPod would be cool, but a petabyte iPod would be a fundamentally different device. In New Rules for the New Economy, Kevin Kelly says:

Count on more being different. A handful of sand grains will never form an avalanche no matter how hard one tries to do it. Indeed one could study a single grain of sand for a hundred years and never conclude that sand can avalanche. To form avalanches you need millions of grains.

Kelly is talking about the power of networks (or swarms), but his rule applies to storage as well. I already have over 46 gigabytes of music alone on my computer, too much to fit on my 40 gigabyte iPod. If I wanted to store photos and movies, I could easily see my current needs hitting 1000 gigabytes, or one terabyte. I'm sure the advent of a terabyte iPod will make many new avenues possible, but my theoretical petabyte iPod is liable to launch a paradigm-shifting avalanche inconceivable to us small-minded humans in the current year of 2005.

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