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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.

That's about 55.7 times the height of Mt. Everest--or, because it's my favorite building--582.2 times the height of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building.

But that's also a very narrow stack, and it certainly wouldn't stay upright in a stiff breeze. In fact, if it tipped, it would fall nearly the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco, as the crow flies.That's where Goldsmith's storage space comes in.

Actually, if all our assumptions hold true (and there's a lot of wiggle room built in) Goldsmith's storage space isn't nearly enough to hold the Internet. A 500 square meter warehouse with six-meter ceilings equals 3,000 cubic meters. An 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper works out to 216 mm x 279 mm (or 0.216 m x 0.279 m); multiply that by our 49,192-meter stack, and we get 29,645 cubic meters, without gaps. Not even close.

But wait, there's more
Unforutnately, however, Goldsmith mucked it all up. In his Tumblr post, he says that "[T]here are many ways to go about this: you can act alone (print out your own blog, Gmail inbox or spam folder) or you could organize a group of friends to print out a particular corner of the internet..."

And there in lies the problem. If you begin factoring in email into the definition of "Internet," then the solution really blows up.

In fact, Royal Pingdom estimated that in 2012, 144 billion emails per day were sent over the Internet. That's 52,560,000,000,000 emails per year. Assuming each email represents a piece of paper, and adding back our 4.5 billion Web pages just for fun, we get a stack 52,564,500,000,000 sheets high. That's a stack 5,466,708,000 meters high, or 117 billion feet, or 3,396,850 miles. That's 14 separate stacks of paper from the Earth to the Moon, or 11,634,300,000 cubic feet, just for one year of email, incluidng the total amount of the Web's content.

Assuming our math is correct (and, knowing the Internet, you'll check it) we think we can safely assume that Goldsmith doesn't have a clue as to the size of the Internet.

And what would it cost?

The United States Postal Service offers a handy international box option: 5.5 inches deep, and sized for standard 8.5 x 11 paper. By my calculations, the box will hold 1,344 pages.

To satisfy Goldsmith's request ( a year's worth of email, plus the entire Web) would require 39,110,491,072 separate boxes. At USPS rates, the total cost would be $3.126 trillion, excluding printing costs.

Don't bother.

 

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