Some things make your mind warp. According to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, the amount of data added to the internet every two days is equivalent to all the data generated in the world from the dawn of civilization until 2003.
Just think about that.
Everything from those first cave paintings in southern France, the hieroglyphics on Egyptian burial tombs, the first elementary Chinese character on a fragment of ancient earthenware, right the way through to that final email you sent on new year’s eve 2002; all of that and everything in between.
I just cannot begin to grasp this. For better or worse, I think in images not numbers so my brain quickly fills up with pictures of stick men being chased by sabre toothed tigers, Egyptian priests writing out the inventory of what a Pharaoh is going to need in the afterlife and bronze age Chinese bureaucrats detailing their plan to dominate the world’s capital markets in the early twenty first century.
Even if Eric Schmidt is exaggerating a little for effect, I still cannot fathom the scale of what is happening. But the growth of the internet is a graphic illustration of how digitalisation is transforming our lives. All this data stretching over the horizon, it is no wonder our eDiscovery team is circumnavigating the globe. From the head waters of the Amazon to the backstreets of Jakarta we are collecting electronically-stored information that needs to be interrogated to find the clues that can help resolve major law suits and fraud enquiries; evidence that would otherwise disappear for ever into the dense undergrowth of the cyber jungle.
While some of us are exploring the outer limits of the digital world, others are engaged in tackling a much older problem and one that has not changed very much since our ancient ancestors first took to the water, piracy. It is a global issue but the focus is now very much on the Indian Ocean.
What started as a localised problem off the Somali coast spread out into the Gulf of Aden and now extends thousands of nautical miles down the coast of Africa and towards the southern tip of India. The problem can be mitigated – planning, prevention, protection and crisis management are all essential. But while the problem can be deterred, it is unlikely to go away until Somalia – largely ignored in all the excitement over the Arab spring – can be rebuilt.
Talk of pirates inevitably summons up images of Johnny Depp dressed as a buccaneering version of Keith Richards in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Sadly, there is nothing very Hollywood or romantic about modern day piracy: it has become as brutal as the lawless Somali communities where the pirates spring from.
While the internet grows exponentially, this low tech, audacious and violent pocket of ancient criminality is disrupting the world’s principal trade artery. And it is doing so in pretty much the same way it has since our ancestors started to make and leave behind permanent records of their lives.
We live in a world where the ancient and modern are jumbled together: some of it new and mind bending, some of it stubbornly unchanging.