Martin HilbertMartin Hilbert and his colleague Priscilla Lopez have calculated how many bytes of data humans have accumulated to date, going back to ancient times and including the newest electronic storage devices: a grand total of 295 exabytes.

Since there are 1,000 petabytes in an exabyte, and 1,000 terabytes in a petabyte, and 1,000 gigabyties in a terabyte, this means that humans have so far in history generated 295 trillion gigabytes of information. Think of this as trillions and trillions of 1-gig thumbdrives. Add to this that the rate of electronic storage capacity is increasing by 58 percent a year, and we have a huge data glut.

We might therefore think of higher education as charting road maps through this vast sea of information.