That bloody video.

still.pngThis video annoyed me the first time I saw it, but I just figured, you know, not everything is made for me. Now it seems to be making another round of the social media stream; it ended up on my radar via FriendFeed, and this time I just had to say something.
First of all, that’s five minutes you’ll never get back. Five minutes isn’t much, but when you only have 30 or 60 minutes a day to spend online — as, e.g., I did in my last job — you resent every stolen second. This is why I hate, with a fierce and curmudgeonly hate, multimedia without transcripts or text versions.
Secondly, here’s the content — in a form you can use at your own pace without needing pause and fast forward buttons:

  • if you’re 1 in a million in China, there are 1300 people just like you
  • China will soon become the number 1 English speaking country in the world
  • the 25% of India’s population with the highest IQ’s is greater than the total population of the United States
  • translation: India has more honors kids than America has kids
  • the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004
  • we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet
  • US Dept of Labor estimates that today’s learner will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38
  • 1 in 4 workers have been with their current employer less than a year; 1 in 2 have been there less than five years
  • 1 in 8 couples married in the US last year met online
  • if MySpace were a country, its 200 million registered users would make it the 5th largest in the world, between Indonesia and Brazil
  • the #1 ranked country in broadband internet penetration is Bermuda; #19 the US; #22 Japan
  • we are living in exponential times
  • Google searches: 2008, 31 billion/month; 2006, 2.7 billion/month
  • to whom were these questions addressed Before Google?
  • the first commercial text message was sent in Dec 1992; today, the number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the total population of the planet
  • years it took to reach a market audience of 50 million: radio 38 years; television 13 years; internet 4 years; iPod 3 years; facebook 2 years.
  • in 1984 there were 1,000 internet devices, in 1992 there were 1,000,000, in 2008 there were 1,000,000,000
  • there are about 540,000 words in the English language, 5 X as many as in Shakespeare’s time
  • it is estimated that a week’s worth of the NY Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century
  • it is estimated that 4 exabytes (4×10^19 bytes) of unique information will be generated this year — more than in the previous 5,000 years
  • the amount of new technical information is doubling every 2 years; for students in a 4-year degree this means that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year
  • NTT Japan has successfully tested a fiber optic cable that pushes 14 trillion bits/second down a single strand of fiber — that is 2,660 CDs or 210 million phone calls every second
  • it is currently tripling every 6 months and expected to do so for the next 20 years
  • by 2013, a supercomputer will be built that exceeds the computational capabilities of the human brain
  • predictions are that by 2049, a $1000 computer will exceed the computational capabilities of the entire human species
  • during the course of this presentation (4:55), 67 babies were born in the US, 274 were born in China, 395 were born in India and 694,000 songs were downloaded illegally
  • credit: Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, and Jeff Brenman

When you see it like that, not zooming out at you with a soundtrack and a bunch of twee effects, it becomes obvious that there’s nothing much there, and what there is, is rather disjointed and incoherent. Many of the factoids look shaky to me, and there are only a couple of references or sources provided (why not provide the others?). I’m not going to bother with a fisking, but here are some obvious eyebrow-raisers:

  • All that stuff about China and India smacks of xenophobic scaremongering to me — I very much doubt that’s the intent, but there’s nothing to tie it to the technological stuff, so it starts to sound like “flee, the brown people are coming!”
  • “We are currently preparing…” — feels good means nothing; it’s just an overblown description of what good teachers have always done.
  • “We are living in exponential times” —  that word (“exponential”), I don’t think it means what you think it means…
  • OK, the google searches, text messages and years-to-50-million stuff is neat, though I still want sources.
  • The prefix exa- denotes 10^18; even using the unofficial binary-base interpretation, 4 exabytes is about 4.61 x 10^18 bytes (See what I did there, with the links to my sources? In a slideshow, you can do that with footnotes and a final slide.)
  • In any case, 4 or 40 exabytes of what? How do you define/count “unique information”?
  • Even if we gloss over “unique information”, how do any of the other quoted rates of change square with “more than in the previous 5,000 years”? What would that mean for the following 1/5000th of a year (~1.75 hours)? In other words, we must have maxed out — right?
  • If the optical fiber example needs a human-scale yardstick, so does 4 exabytes –e.g. if you wrote that data to CD-ROM and covered a football field with the discs, the resulting stack would be about 16 m high, or roughly the height of a four story house.

Update, written after all of the above:
It’s important to note that although the version discussed above is the only one I’d ever seen before today, it is actually the third version on YouTube and was “remixed” by Sony BMG in August 2008. The original was made by Karl Fisch in August 2006; Scott McLeod’s version dates to January 2007 (this was the first one to make it to YouTube and was responsible for the first viral wave); Jeff Brenman created a SlideShare version a couple of months later, and the official version 2.0 was made in consultation with XPLANE in June 2007.
In fairness to Fisch (sounds like a PETA chant), many of the shortcomings of the version that so annoyed me must be laid at the feet of the anonymous Sony drone responsible for the “remix”.
Not only did Fisch provide a text version and a list of his sources with version 1.0, but version 2.0 does a better job than the Sony version of acknowledging the sources in the course of the presentation and even comes with its own wiki, mentioned in the presentation. Version 2.0 is also considerably more coherent and much nicer to look at, and does a (somewhat) better job of avoiding the “eek, brown people!” tone. (Fisch says in a couple of places that he and McLeod, in response to criticism, consciously worked to reduce that “us vs them” feeling, and points out here that he views it as largely an unforseen side-effect of some of the changes between his original powerpoint version, made for his immediate colleagues, and the first YouTube version.) Finally, kudos for choosing a Creative Commons license (even though I don’t like copyleft): although the Sony version leaves this out, all versions are CC-BY-NC-SA (source files are available on the wiki).
In my opinion it’s a damn shame that the Sony version took off (at the time of writing, there are two copies on YouTube with 4,458,229 and 29,828 views, respectively). If you come across someone talking about that version, do everyone a favour and point them to version 2.0.

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