Some days writing is pulling teeth. Other days, ideas come falling out like old toys from an overstuffed closet. Today is one of the latter.
The trail of my thoughts goes something like this: I started at The Upward Way Press, which led me to this article on the weight of the Internet. Here’s a short sample:
How much information—all the Web pages, instant messages, video streams, and everything else you can imagine—passes through the Internet as a whole? Not an easy number to track down, but finally we got our answer from Clifford Holliday, author of Internet Growth 2006 (published by the telecommunications consultancy Information Gatekeepers). He estimates the total amount of Internet traffic by looking at the activity of end-user connections, such as dial-up modem lines, DSL, and fiber-optic connections. Broadband connections to homes and businesses, like DSL and cable modems, are responsible for generating most of the load, which also goes a long way toward Holliday’s discovery that 75 percent of all traffic on the Internet is due to file sharing, with 59 percent of that file sharing attributed to people swapping video files. Music tracks account for 33 percent of the file-sharing traffic. E-mail, it turns out, accounts for just 9 percent of the total traffic. And that total is… a staggering 40 petabytes, or 40 x 1015 bytes: a 4 followed by 16 zeros.
Taking Holliday’s 40-petabyte figure and plugging it into the same formula that we worked out for our 50-kilobyte e-mail results in a grand total of 1.3 x 10-8 pound. At last, after much scribbling (and perhaps a little cursing), we had our answer: The weight of the Internet adds up to just about 0.2 millionths of an ounce.
Love letters, business contracts, holiday snaps, spam, petitions, emergency bulletins, pornography, wedding announcements, TV shows, news articles, vacation plans, home movies, press releases, celebrity Web pages, home movies, secrets of every stripe, military orders, music, newsletters, confessions, congratulations—every shade and aspect of human life encoded as 1s and 0s. Taken together, they weigh roughly the same as the smallest possible sand grain, one measuring just two-thousandths of an inch across.
Here’s what a grain of sand looks like up close – real close:
They closed their article with a passing reference to “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake . Here are the first four lines:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
I then remembered I’d written about sand before.
Google was my next stop, where I typed in “grain of sand” and found a Dylan song called, “Every Grain of Sand”:
In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed.
There’s a dying voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.
Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake.
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand.
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.
Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear.
Like criminals, they have choked the breath
of conscience and good cheer.
But the sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.
I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered, like every grain of sand.
I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry night
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me.
I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.
(I picked the Nash cover because I could understand the words and I’m trying to learn the chords.)
The other person I found was Wislawa Szymborska, to whom I was introduced yesterday, because she has a book of poetry called View With a Grain of Sand. She weighed in with these words:
Some Like Poetry
thus not all. Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting schools, where one has to,
and the poets themselves,
there might be two people per thousand.
but one also likes chicken soup with noodles,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes having the upper hand,
one likes stroking a dog.
but what is poetry.
Many shaky answers
have been given to this question.
But I don’t know and don’t know and hold on to it
like to a sustaining railing.
The title of her book is also the title of a documentary about three women in Afghanistan.
Shot in the sprawling refugee camps of the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan and Kabul, Afghanistan, View From A Grain of Sand foregrounds the individual voices of three Afghan women, each dramatically affected by the different regimes of the last twenty-five years. Principal taping began almost a year prior to September 11, 2001. At that time the issues of Afghan women’s rights were of little interest to the international community. Subsequently returning to the region in November 2001, the director was uniquely positioned to portray the extraordinary shift, which had taken Afghan women from being a forgotten population to becoming a focus of global outcry. Through the personal stories of these women, the broader history of Afghanistan (since the late 1970s) is elucidated, offering a first-person perspective on the socio-political context behind the situation in which the refugees now find themselves. The documentary follows the three women over a period of three years: 2000, 2001 and 2003, to form a continuum through a period of dramatic change going from one year before the Taliban fell, during the time of their fall, and one year after.
Here is the trailer.
When I left the house this morning, the wind was blowing in from the ocean. Some of the sand from the beach was blowing past my head, no doubt, each grain large enough to carry everything I found today and more. And I thought sand in my eyes was a bad thing.
Oh wow Milton! Simply fantastic. Thank you! Up there with your best (and that is a long list). Peace back to you.
And all the best with those cords.