Is Data Tangible or Intangible?

Did you know that electronic information is tangible? From the apps you use, the games on your phone, right down to every message you send – all of it appears to invisibly float away and live somewhere far off in the ethers, but actually, most of it will land with a thump in our earthly domain.

Because of our impression that information is invisible, we can end up taking the resources it requires for granted. Data centers or server farms dot the globe, and actually come with considerably large carbon footprints, because of not only the power the require to run them, but also to keep them cool. In the United States, these centers storing the bulk of our data consume almost 3% of our national power supply; that’s more power per year than Sweden.

And 70% of the data load on these servers is actually caused not by big companies such as Google or Amazon, but by us; individuals who browse and share entertainment. And it’s growing at an amazing rate.

Tools such as attribution, data analytics, automation, real-time bidding, multivariate testing and CRM mean we’re spawning so much information it’s going to leave us drowning in data. What’s more, marketing automation may be growing, but sources show that just under three-quarters of marketers in the US are currently using this technology, and most are not using it to its full potential.

The current estimated volume of information is roughly 1.2 zettabytes – if you’re finding that hard to imagine, think about the volume of data that would be generated if every single person in the world tweeted continuously for a century. That’s a lot, and 75% of that is actually duplicative, and it’s growing by the minute.

So, as it becomes harder to wade through the digital detritus, how do we cope? In the corporate world, companies are apt to stockpile data as that seems the wisest course of action – yet it has hidden costs, including security and privacy risks. And in the face of so many resource challenges, companies find themselves postponing the effort and costs of managing their data. We call this ‘data paralyses’.

Of course, advances in virtual storage and cloud computing are helping us to consolidate data and applications, can our planet continue to feed our digital appetite? In a constant search for solutions, it’s clear we can still be productive without the information hoarding we’ve become accustomed to. Consumers and stockholders alike can demand that service providers and companies actively engage in strategies towards data reduction, and take steps to clean up the huge stockpiles of dead data. In our daily lives we can be a bit wiser by texting less, talking more, and hitting the delete button occasionally.

It may be difficult to see the end goal in taking small actions now, but the actions we do take will add up to make a real difference, as with any kind of conversation effort.


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