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On Data, Media, and Killing the Messenger

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I got curious about all this data that I’m always reading about, so I looked up some stats. A very interesting collection is by tech writer Jacquelyn Bulao in an article titled “How Much Data Is Created Every Day in 2022?” from the online magazine

I learned some new terms. There are bytes. Kilobytes. Megabytes. Gigabytes. Terabytes (equals 1024GB). Petabytes. Exabytes. Zettabytes. Yottabytes, which equals 1,204 zettabytes.

By the end of this year, there will be 44 zettabytes of information digitalized. On an average day on earth, human beings produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of information. A quintillion, by the way, is a one followed by 18 zeros.

(Are you still wondering why you’re tired all the time?)

By 2025 that daily amount produced will be 463 exabytes — that’s a billion billion bytes.

But also, BTW, human beings now produce 60% of data. Forty percent of data is produced by . . . data, apparently.

And, one last stat: the majority of the data in existence . . . has been generated in the past two years . . . *

Do I understand what all this means? Nope. It gives me a headache.

When I start thinking about information overload and the 24-hour news cycle, one thing that thing that pops into my mind is “don’t shoot the messenger.” “Media” is just that: the medium . . . the thing between the events and the data and you and me.

The philosopher and historian Plutarch, writing at the beginning of the Common Era, relates the story of Tigranes the Great, king of what is now Armenia. A messenger rushed into the court of Tigranes, telling of an invasion by the Romans. Tigranes was so upset by the news that he had the messenger beheaded. After which, as you might expect, the news reaching Tigranes improved considerably. As a matter of fact, he was getting only good news.

coin with profile of Tigrenes the Great

But the reality on the ground, as we might call it, was not as rosy . . . . “Don’t kill the messenger” if you want to know the truth. 

However, in the United States, “news” is big business. Sure, we have National Public Radio, but from the local paper to the 24-hour news networks, most media depends upon advertising, which means money, which means that we consumers will be sometimes — or often — treated like Tigranes the Great.

After all, we don’t have to behead the unwanted messenger. All we have to do is switch channels. Which, unfortunately, leads to the echo chambers that most of us appear to be living in these days. 

Data. Media. Echo chambers. Bias. Yes, it can make you feel like plugging your ears and closing your eyes. Then I remember that old formula: “The truth shall set you free.” No one ever said freedom is easy . . .

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