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What would it take to print out the Internet?

Mark Hachman | June 3, 2013
Print out the Internet? The entire Internet? That's the dream of the New York Museum of Modern Art's eccentric poet laureate. And you know what? It's impossible.

Print out the Internet? The entire Internet? That's the dream of the New York Museum of Modern Art's eccentric poet laureate. And you know what? It's impossible.

Kenneth Goldsmith, whose "art" has included printing out everything he's said for a week (dubbed Soliloquy) and a day's worth of The New York Times (also called a "newspaper") now has launched a Tumblr page to encourage the world to print out the Internet, and mail the printouts. To Mexico.

The goal, Goldsmith said, was to memorialize Aaron Swartz, one of the earliest founders of Reddit who committed suicide after being arrested for downloading copyrighted academic articles from JSTOR, an academic database, and publishing them online.

"The amount of what he liberated was enormous--we can't begin to understand the magnitude of his action until we begin to materialize and actualize it," Goldsmith told Yahoo.com via email. "This project tries to bring that point home."

So is Goldsmith's dream possible? Of course. If you want to bankrupt the nation, that is.

Goldsmith's rules are relatively simple.

"What you decide to print out is up to you--as long as it exists somewhere online, it's in," Goldsmith wrote. "We're not looking for creative interpretations of the project. We don't want objects. We just want shitloads of paper. We're literally looking for folks to print out the entire internet. "

In Mexico, Goldmsith said, is a 500-square-meter facility, with ceilings six meters high, ready to receive the mountains of paper. And that's where the fun begins.

What would it take to print out the Internet?
According to an estimate by the TheWorldWideWebSize.com, the size of the Internet on Friday, May 31, 2013, totaled at least 4.73 billion pages. (The estimate is compiled by calculating search results for common words like "the" on search engines like Google and Bing, together with some extrapolations and other calculations.

Let's assume that the each Web page can be printed out on a single sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper. Granted, some pages are larger than others, and "infinitely scrolling" pages like Twitter or Google images completely break the model. But for all of the modern, formatted pages with dozens of images that scroll on and on, let's assume that there just as many older pages with archived content, buried in the back corners of the Web. Waving our magic wand, we now have 4.73 billion sheets of paper.

So how big is that? Well, each ream of paper--500 sheets--is about 5.2 centimeters thick, with one sheet equaling 0.0104 cm thick. Multiply that by 4.73 billion, and we get a stack of paper 491,920 meters high, or 1.61 million feet, or 305.67 miles.

 

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