Every second on the Internet, about 4,000 tweets are posted to Twitter. And about 33,333 Google searches are made. And about 46,000 YouTube clips are viewed. Neat factoids, and we’ve heard them before. But they also tend to go in one eye and out the other, so to speak. Large numbers like these are vaporous abstractions to our monkey minds. How can you make them graspable? An elegant infographic (or is it more of a digital poster? Get back to me on that) called, appropriately, Every Second on the Internet, uses the most obvious physical yardstick available to help make sense of these insensate quantities: the size of your screen. And I say this unironically: The results may surprise you.
A lot of data graphics and visualizations are all about fancy interactions, but ESotI (you don’t mind if I abbreviate that title from here on out?) has just one. Scrolling. And it works like a charm for adding a sense of physical context to the data on display. What does 33,333 Google searches every second look like? Well, you could visualize it all kinds of ways—maybe as a stack of iPads as tall as a building, or something. But that doesn’t tell me what 33,333 Google searches every second feels like. Thanks to ESotI, I can tell you. It feels like a f#*%-ton of scrolling, that’s what.
A data graphic that takes a tediously long time to scroll through might sound brainless or masochistic, but in this case, it’s the opposite. The kinesthetic interaction of pushing that block of icons up and up and up and up through the comparably tiny porthole of my screen creates more meaning the longer it goes. You don’t just see the numbers piling up. You feel it. And the effect is cleverly cumulative: The first few data-factoids at the top (such as Reddit votes per second and Instagrams per second) fit tidily into the space of your screen, even on a phone. But as you drill downward into the graphic, the numbers increase and so does the physical exertion. (okay, maybe "exertion" is the wrong word, but you get what I’m saying.) By the time you’ve scrolled through what feels like 500 screens’ worth of little icons representing Facebook Likes, you can’t help but marvel (or recoil) at their sheer volume. And for the reader, it’s an entirely different experience to have with the data than the usual, which (in my case, at least) often consists of raising one Spock-like eyebrow at an infographic for a brief second before clicking into a different browser tab.
Besides the surprising experience that ESotI creates out of these rising orders of magnitude, the order of the magnitudes is also an eye-opener. For instance, I didn’t assume that the number of Dropbox files uploaded every second was more than the number of Tweets. And if you make it to the bottom, there’s a kicker (about the most reviled mode of digital communication we have) that I don’t want to ruin. Just don’t give yourself carpal-tunnel syndrome getting there.