Number Gymnastics

Dear J-

How much is a trillion? If you gave a million people a million dollars each, that would be a trillion. At the last census the population of America was right around 300 million people, and the national debt is … wait for it … 17.6 trillion, which means we’re each on the hook for 17.6/300 million dollars apiece; that’s right around $60,000 each. I guess I have better things to do with my money (if I had that much money) but spend we keep must doing. Right? Does that even make sense? The universes within the machines we do work are already staggering; let’s talk about the memory card I bought yesterday, 32GB of storage, which if we simplify is 32 billion bytes, 256 billion bits. That’s almost enough to record yes/no votes from everyone in America a thousand times over.

It’s also approximately a hundred times the storage of the first hard drive I bought twenty years ago, for about a tenth of the price. Numbers and numerology are fun but these feel like huge leaps, intuitively I think we understand ten times as much but even a hundred starts to get a little fuzzy, and it’s hard to picture a million, which sounds impossibly multiple. A million grams is a thousand kilograms is approximately one ton in customary measurements. The Japanese one Yen piece is an aluminum disc that weighs almost exactly one gram and given where the exchange rate is (let’s peg it at a hundred Yen to the US Dollar) a million Yen is ten thousand dollars is a ton of one Yen pieces. Literally.

Take your mental estimations and keep tying yourself in knots; there’s a lot to be said for giving yourself a little exercise in the mornings. I should be so mentally sharp towards the end of the day, but I keep dashing myself against those rocks over and over again. The knife’s edge of razor wit is lost by noon, irretrievably lost. We keep moving forward, hands on the wheel at ten and two, throttle open and the heady song of the road under your wheels.

Mike

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