opinion

The Weight of Data

Stephen Yagielowicz
I read a story in a magazine the other day that made me chuckle at first, but later made me wonder if it might have some basis in fact. The article looked at the science behind computer hard drives weighing more when they are full of data than they do when empty. What's more, it is claimed that video data is measurably heavier than other types of data, because, some experts note, video data typically contains more "ones" — and ones weigh more than zeros.

This of course refers to the electronic stream of 'ones' and 'zeros' that make up the binary universe at the root of all digital technology. The individual bits making up this data stream, some say, weigh more than others based upon their polarity-driven interaction with the earth's magnetic field.

At first, the basic thought of electricity having an actual weight to it that alters perceptibly based on what that current is representing seemed far-fetched, but this fantastic claim intrigued me, and a few days later, my curiosity led me to Bing the topic, where I found a discussion which questions if the weight of a hard drive changes depending on how much (and what) data is stored in it.

While the verity of the mathematics involved in the analysis is beyond me, it fascinates me to think that entirely unexpected things are happening at the most basic levels of computer operation. Perhaps the guys behind Tron were on to something…