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msnbc.com
updated 3/14/2008 8:53:52 AM ET 2008-03-14T12:53:52

Our use of ever-higher megapixel cameras, iPods with large hard drives and jumbo video files posted on YouTube is starting to crush us — digitally, that is.

Last year, when research firm IDC released a report about digital storage, it was titled “The Expanding Digital Universe.”

But this week, the firm’s new report came with a more ominous title: “The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe.”

In 2007, for the first time, the amount of digital information created, captured or replicated exceeded available storage, the firm said.

While the report was done with enterprise in mind — and it was sponsored by data storage corporation EMC — it’s a cautionary tale for individuals, who create 70 percent of the digital universe, IDC said in the report.

“It’s not meant to be an alarmist type of report, but it certainly is a reflection of what could be a tsunami, a deluge of data that’s coming on us,” said Dave Reinsel, one of the study’s authors and IDC vice president, storage and semiconductors.

“What we’re trying to point out, really, is the number of things you have to look at when thinking about how to manage this information.”

Many home users, Reinsel said, tend to consider the issue of storing and backing up their photos, videos and music with about the same gusto as they do insurance: Nobody really wants to deal with it, but they grudgingly do.

“We’re putting our digital heirlooms, per se, on these hard disk drives, and you don’t want to lose that information, because it’s your history,” he said.

45 gigabytes per person
IDC said in 2007, the digital universe equaled 281 billion gigabytes of data, or about 45 gigabytes for every person on Earth.

In 2006, the firm said 161 billion gigabytes of data was created, representing “about 3 million times the information in all the books ever written.”

Behind some of the growth, the firm said, is the increase in the number of digital TVs, surveillance cameras, Internet access in emerging countries, sensor-based applications and devices, social networking Web sites such as Facebook and YouTube, as well as “cloud computing” data centers, such as Google, which offer users a range of programs, from e-mail to word processing programs, via the Web.

“The diversity of the digital universe can been seen in the variability of file sizes, from 6-gigabyte movies on DVD to 128-bit signals from RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags,” mainly used for authentication, IDC said.

Not everything that is created digitally needs to be stored, such as “radio and TV broadcasts that are listened to but not recorded, voice call packets that are not needed when the call is over, images captured for a time then written over on a surveillance camera recorder,” the firm said.

But, IDC said, “this is our first time in the situation where we couldn’t store all the information we create even if we wanted to. This mismatch between creation and storage, plus increasing regulatory requirements for information retention, will put pressure on those responsible for developing strategies for storing, retaining and purging information on a regular basis.”

There’s not only the issue of how, when and where to store personal digital files, IDC said. There’s the matter of the each individual’s “digital shadow,” something thats concerned privacy experts for years.

“It is digital images of you on a surveillance camera and records in banking, brokerage, retail, airline, telephone and medical databases,” the firm said.

“It is information about Web searches and general backup data. It is copies of hospital scans. In other words, it is information about you in cyberspace.”

“As we live our lives online, more of our information is being captured digitally,” said Reinsel. “There’s more data being created about you than you’re creating yourself.”

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