Your “Digital Shadow” -a Mind Bending Prediction for the Future

“We discovered that only about half of your digital footprint is related to your individual actions—taking pictures, sending e-mails, or making digital voice calls. The other half is what we call the ‘digital shadow’—information about you—names in financial records, names on mailing lists, web surfing histories or images taken of you by security cameras in airports or urban centers. For the first time your digital shadow is larger than the digital information you actively create about yourself.”

IDC senior vice president, John Gantz

A recent study conducted by IDC and sponsored by the information management giant EMC, has provided a look in to the growth of our digital information, as well as a mind bending prediction for the future.

Using a complex mathematical formula, the study was able to estimate the size of the “digital universe.” In other words, they were able to tally up the total volume of digital information that is both created and replicated globally.

In terms of numbers, the figures are staggering. The size of the digital universe for 2007 reached 281 billion gigabytes, or, 281 exabytes. This works out to be about 45GB of digital information per person on the planet. And, considering the lack of information for some of the third world countries, one can only imagine how much those of us reading this article will have under their belts.

IDC and pundits have all agreed that digital content has been long in its growth. Ever since the internet became commonplace for the planet, our digital footprint has grown. From bank statements, charitable giving’s, digital photos and downloadable content, each of us racks up a handy sum.

Visual content, such as photographs and video, accounts for the largest portion of our ever expanding digital universe. According to the IDC, there are over a billion digital cameras and camera phones in the world taking photos. Only ten percent of photos taken are actually taken on film.

But the mind blowing portion of this research is … well, its mind blowing! For the first time ever, according to the report, the total volume of digital content actually exceeds the total storage capacity available. In fact, IDC went on to predict that by 2011 only half of the digital universe would actually be in storage.

How is this possible?

Because much of the data that exists in the world is not standing still; it is in fact in transit. So while our digital footprint might be continually growing, it is also being transmitted every which way. Photos get uploaded to Flickr, videos are streamed, and evidence of financial transactions is flying across the internet every day.

Furthermore, the amount of information about us that is generated automatically on a pretty much daily basis outweighs the total volume of information that we create about ourselves. Naturally this has large security implications that the IT sector will have to address more and more as time passes.

Posted by Josh Hill at

Calculate your own digital footprint with these Mac OSX and Windows applications.

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