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The amount of information created last year is the equivalent of 3 quadrillion Twitter feeds

How many new digital information bits were created in 2008?

The answer is in our headline. Read that as “3 sextillion, 892 quintillion, 179 quadrillion, 868 trillion, 480 billion, 350 million.”

EMC Corp. makes this estimate (which we suspect is, uuhh, somewhat approximate). The company’s chief research officer, John Gantz, states in an announcement, “Contrary to popular belief, as the economy deteriorated in late 2008, the pace of digital information created and transmitted over the Internet, phone networks and airwaves actually increased.”

The company, which not surprisingly sells information infrastructure technology and solutions, sponsored an IDC study titled, “As the Economy Contracts, the Digital Universe Expands.” It finds that the amount of digital information created in 2008 grew 3% faster than a prior projection. In these studies, EMC tries to measure and forecast the amounts and types of digital information we create and copy annually.

“Calculated to be 487 billion gigabytes in size,” EMC finds, the amount of information created in 2008 is the equivalent of more than 237 billion fully-loaded Amazon Kindle wireless reading devices, or 4.8 quadrillion online bank transactions, or 3 quadrillion Twitter feeds, or 162 trillion digital photos, or 30 billion fully-loaded Apple iPod Touches or 19 billion fully-loaded Blu-ray DVDs (they obviously know how much editors love comparison statistics).

The Digital Universe, the company says, is expected to double in size every 18 months. In 2012, five times as much digital information will be created vs. 2008.

For fun, watch the Worldwide Information Growth Ticker or download their Digital Footprint Calculator to measure growth in your own digital universe.

This, it says, has implications for managers because while the pace of digital information increased, IT budgets declined, “thus creating an even larger divide between the amount of information generated and the amount of IT resources purchased and deployed to manage it.” This, it continues, shows the need for tools and techniques like virtualization, deduplication and other data reduction technologies geared to “managing more with less.” Tools the company no doubt offers.

The impact is felt, the company says, whether you’re a student, senior executive, surgeon or parent. “The growth of digital information collides with every-day business and every-day life. Those who use information growth to their advantage are seeking out new and creative ways to manage, secure and protect the rapidly-growing volumes.”

Why are yet more bits coming down our already congested pipelines?

Any number of reasons, it says. The number of information-generation technologies and interactions will increase “dramatically”; mobile users will grow by a factor of three; 600 million more people will become Internet users in the next four years and nearly two-thirds of all Internet users will use mobile devices at least some of the time; non-traditional IT devices such as wireless meters, automobile nav systems, industrial machines, RFID readers and intelligent sensor controllers will continue to proliferate; interactions between people via e-mail, messaging, social networks etc. will grow by a factor of eight; most of the world’s economic stimulus efforts will increase the amount of digital information created; and by 2012, 850 million people will buy and sell products and services on the Internet and twice as much Internet commerce will take place compared to 2008, EMC summarized.

It also says more than 30% of information created today is “security-intensive” and requires high standards of protection; this will grow to 45% by the end of 2012. Also, most of the information that IT organizations will need to keep secure is created outside the data center, often outside the company; more and more of that information originates from mobile users which adds management and security complexity. The amount of information considered “compliance-intensive,” or subject to rules that govern what information must be stored and accessible to regulators, will grow; and the world’s economic situation will lead to more regulation and government oversight, which will drive more mandated record-keeping compliance, and hence, more digital information.

All of which adds up to a whole lot of bits.