I found myself watching the device over steepled fingers, pursed lips resting against my thumbs. The keyboard in front of me lay silent, while the display on my monitor continued to flash ominously, reeling numbers increasing more quickly than the eye could track, while a second set counted down at a more sedate speed.
The device itself was little bigger than a credit card, but I could hear the reinforced steel of its cradle groaning beneath its weight. That iconic white faceplate no longer seemed quite so clean and innocent; there was something sinister about the glossy surface. Saruman the white revealing his true intentions to Gandalf.
At the end of the day, it was the damned theoretical physicists who were responsible. But they couldnt really be held to blame. Its always the way with incredible breakthroughs; no-one ever considers the long-term implications.
Infinite data storage seemed like such an amazing concept. I think everyone could agree with that. I dont boast an understanding of anything beyond the simplest laymans explanation, but the basic theory centres around the relationship between mass and energy. Instead of storing data using electrical circuitry, that energy can be converted to mass and the data can be stored using sub-atomic particles. By meshing together bigger and bigger atoms, the potential for data storage was endless.
The first signs that this concept hadnt been thought through quite thoroughly enough came after a spate of hospital admissions for people with broken thighs. While fractured legs arent anything particularly unusual, it was the fire brigade who were becoming increasingly concerned for the number of people they were being forced to cut out from under their own desks. Of course, the solution to that problem was simple; hard drives of the new design came with the warning that anything in which they were mounted should be left on the floor. Or in the case of large servers, on the ground floor.
It wasnt only computer systems to benefit from this advance. Producers of portable media players seized upon the idea. After the release of a 1TB iPod the size of small laptop, with approximately the same battery life which was, incidentally, about the same as its working life Apple leapt at the opportunity to miniaturise their designs once more. With 200,000 songs weighing in at a little under one kilogram, it was only those with the most exhaustive music collections that suffered from the designs pocket-ripping potential.
Unfortunately, data you wanted to store isnt necessarily the only thing that gets written to your hard drive. A single badly or maliciously written loop dropping a string of characters into a text file can hit 5GB by the time youve finished your coffee break, depending on the speed of your processor and the length of your coffee breaks. And of course, with unlimited hard drive space, Where did those fifty gigs go? suddenly becomes Oh, cool, check out the all porn Ive pirated!.
This happened to be exactly what snuck itself into the latest iPods programming. Auto download and storage of all available Podcasts via Wi-Fi must have seemed like an excellent idea to someone. It possibly would have been, if they had thought to add any system for filtering or deleting said Podcasts.
Which is exactly why I found myself staring at a device a little larger than a credit card that happened to weigh about the same as the average family car.
586 hours plus some change sounds like a long time. But when thats the time youve got before the MP3 player sitting in front of you gains a noticeable gravitational field along with every one of the sixteen million sold on the release date twenty four and a half days really doesnt seem enough time to either shut off every single Podcast on the internet, or to disable the Wi-Fi on each one of those sixteen million iPods.
With a sigh, I poured myself another coffee and went back to the drawing board.