Just yesterday, I was thinking to myself how efficiently text (and the language it symbolizes) can store information. Entire novels can take many hours to read, yet take up so little digital space in computer memory when converted to 1’s and 0’s. High-quality images, movies, and music, by contrast, can take up significant amounts of digital space. But then, the point of these sorts of digital files is to recreate reality, in a sense, whether with an image on a screen or sound through speakers, or both. In other words, the digital information stored in image and sound files is converted into another medium meant to be sensed with the eyes or ears. But text remains a symbolized medium; letters represent a code (symbols to sound to words to language) even before they’re converted to binary. So, in a sense, the compression is innate.
Anyway, I thought it rather wondrous that a writer’s life work could potentially be stored on one CD, or one little thumb drive. So I wondered how prolific I would have to be as a writer to write enough text to fill an entire CD with writing?
To estimate the answer, let us first estimate the ratio of words per byte of computer memory. For this, I shall use the wordcount of my last novel, SON OF A DARK WIZARD, along with how much memory it takes up as a TXT file: (41,920 words : 241,096 bytes) = around 0.1739 words per byte, or around 5.7513 bytes per word.
According to Wikipedia: “A standard 120 mm, 700 MB CD-ROM can actually hold about 737 MB (703 MiB) of data with error correction (or 847 MB total).”
Let us assume 737 MB = 737,000,000 bytes.
So a CD should be able to hold (41,920 word / 241,096 bytes) * 737,000,000 bytes = about 128,144,142 words.
So if I only wrote novels that had the wordcount of SON OF A DARK WIZARD, I’d have to write 128,144,142 words / 41,920 words per book = 3,057 books.
Pffshh! That should be easy! (Granted, SON OF A DARK WIZARD is shorter than the average book, so the book calculations may be skewed slightly higher than usual. But if you imagine an epic fantasy to be roughly ten times as long at, say, 419,200 words, then you only need to divide the results by ten to obtain the number of this epic fantasy books you’d have to write.)
But what about this 8 GB thumb drive I have sitting here next me? If 8 GB = 8,000,000,000 bytes, then (41,920 word / 241,096 bytes) * 8,000,000,000 bytes = 1,390,981,186 words or 33,182 books.
What about if I had a 128 GB thumb drive? 22,255,698,975 words or 530,909 books.
What about a 2 TB hard drive? 347,745,296,479 words or 8,295,451 books.
I think I can write that many books if I put my mind to it and believe in myself…