June 26, 2012, 12:56 PM — On Monday Gartner, Inc. released a report predicting consumers would be hoarding a global total of 4.1 zettabytes worth content by 2016.
I'm sure Gartner's math was accurate, but most of us don't really have a handle on how big a zettabyte really is.
In previous computing eras we only had to really have a feel for the real disk-space size of a couple of major measurements at a time. In the paleosilithic era, nomadic proto-geeks used kilobytes and megabytes to measure the size of their hard drives (and "floppy drives," though this might have been the result of anxiety or heavy drinking, both of which are known to cause otherwise firm drives to droop).
In more recent eras we used gigabytes and terabytes, with the occasional petabyte thrown in to make it seem as if we were ahead of our time.
In the petabyte era (a term that became obsolete 15 minutes after it was covered in Wired in June of 2008), individual personal computing devices may have 1,024 terabytes or more of storage space on board, or, more likely, 1,024 terabytes available in a mix of onboard and cloud-based storage.
That will force those of us who insist on staying current enough on new technology to be able to identify it in taste tests to learn a whole series of other terms, all of which reflect an order-of-magnitude leap in size over the previous one, several of which might be in use at any one time.
Zettabytes, yottabytes, xonabytes and vundabytes, for example.
The problem is that those of us who grew up with mega-, giga- and terabytes have a good feel for how much space they describe, how much stuff we could put on a drive (hard, soft or thumb) with that much space, and how many of one metric fits into another.
The same is not true of zettabytes, yottabytes or vundabytes.
Next generation data metrics: More odd names, even huger piles of data
Fortunately the web has come to the rescue in the form of ConvertUnits.com, a slightly academic-feeling site that will convert any size of data-measurement unit to another instantly and for free.