Dispatches | October 04, 2007

A little light reading. That’s a good way to describe the idea behind an item which appeared in Harper’s index in July, which reported that all the information transferred through the Internet in 2006 weighed .00004 oz.

Thinking back to junior high science class, when we learned that protons and neutrons have masses and weights and that electrons are much smaller and harder to locate but have mass and weight nevertheless, I realize it’s logical: there must be a measurable weight to electricity, the cyberstream of electrons turning the Internet’s turbines–although until now I’ve never wondered what an actual stream weighs.

The notion that all our downloading, uploading, e-mailing, searching, surfing, gaming and chatting can be assigned a weight–and might even have a tiny corresponding numbered metal piece from the scale in the aforementioned junior high science class–could lead to the kind of remarks uttered at a cocktail party for people who make inconsistent comparisons  (a metaphor-mixer mixer). The phrase, “This feels as light as the Internet” might echo across a  room just as someone else notes that “The chardonnay is the exact flavor of sunlight” or “Her voice has the breezy scent of gold.”

To keep mixing metaphors, light could be taken to mean airy, superfluous, and trite, which certainly applies to a lot of the data afloat on the Internet (poetry.com, we’re e-looking at you here).

But it doesn’t apply to all of it. For instance, we here at TMR are busily adding our back issues to the site. We’re pulling data-entry duty on our author bios, and we’re constantly expanding the site’s searchable bibliography section, doing our part not only to increase the net (get it?) weight of cyberspace, but to tip the scales, so to speak, by continuing to promote some of contemporary literature’s heavy hitters–literary luminaries not to be taken lightly.

As I lug another volume up from archives to be linked and logged online, I think about last year’s .00004 oz. of data transferal. Though the uploading I’m about to perform would probably require exponents to express in ounces, it still makes me smile to think that it has an actual weight, even a small one, just as a tiny weight will emerge when someone reads it–or this blog, for that matter, a miniscule tap on the snare drum of the universe where one would not otherwise have been, and another, and another. Suddenly the Internet seems less like a compressor (as it would be if we were merely scanning in and uploading all our old stuff and throwing out original print copies) and more like a generator. It’s beyond storing and accessing now. We post, you look, something gets created.

Whoa, I think. Heavy.