According to Yahoo News, quoting information from Internet Live Stats, we passed the billion mark for websites, just after the web hit its 25th birthday in April. Across the globe, people have taken their time, energy and creativity to produce over a billion points of connection to other people, and that figure continues to grow. A billion is a number that's really too big for me to wrap my brain around.
A couple of years ago, DOMO created an infographic depicting the sheer volume of data coursing through the virtual veins of the Internet. Every minute, "YouTube users upload 48 hours of video, Facebook users share 684,478 pieces of content, Instagram users share 3,600 new photos, and Tumblr sees 27,778 new posts published." The numbers are higher now; that was two years ago, which, in the virtual world, is ancient history.
How are we to cope with this flood of information? And, within this flood, which are facts and which are not? Who do you trust when you've got a billion choices? How do you filter out what you need to know from all the digital flotsam and jetsam? How do you know what's real and what's virtual?
When I was growing up and needed a pair of shoes, there were three brick-and-mortar stores to choose from. I had a parental cost filter, as well, so my choices were limited. Yet, I always was able to find shoes. Now, on Bing, when I type in "shoes," I get 156 million websites to choose from. It is not possible for me to visit 156 million websites to search for shoes. I guess I could just hit the first sponsored link (Zappos) and take my chances. Or, I could go down to the local store I've shopped at for years, but, if I do, what am I missing out on?
Have you ever watched an average person at a press conference, caught in some sort of media spotlight? When the forest of hands and cacophony of questions swell in front of them, they can look like a paralyzed deer in the headlights, overwhelmed and unsure of what hand to pick or which question to answer first. In a way, a billion websites is like a billion hands in the air. In a way, a 156 million websites is like a 156 million people telling me what kind of shoes to buy.
As a kid with three choices, I always had shoes but, sometimes, I was glad when a pair wore out and I got to choose again. Choice is supposed to be about freedom, making a stand with what you choose. But what happens when there are so many choices, you can't choose? Three choices may not have been much of choice but I'm not so sure a billion choices are any better. The Internet is growing, which means choice is growing. Somehow, we need to find a way to navigate through those upraised hands, clamoring for our attention, because we can't pay attention to them all.
If you think you can, try going to the Internet Live Stats website; it's mind-bending. There are real-time counts for categories like Internet users in the world, Total number of websites, emails sent today, Google searches today, blog posts written today, and a host of others. All with numbers frantically spinning higher and higher so fast they become a dizzying blur.
The number of options available to me over the Internet is exploding. When confronted with a billion upraised hands, how do I know which ones I should choose and how do I feel good about those choices? When there were three choices, I was confident I chose the best shoes I could. With a billion choices, how can I be so sure?
In 25 years, we've gained choices but we may have lost our confidence we're making good ones. Happy birthday, Internet.