As of 4:45 this afternoon, English Wikipedia contains 4,894,108 articles. The “Wikipedia:Statistics” page estimates that 750 new articles are created per day and the Wikimedia projects edit counter is mindboggling to watch — more than one edit rolls in every second. The New York Times estimates that the entirety of Wikipedia would fill 7,600 physical volumes. Enter Michael Mandiberg, the tree-hater who wants to print it.
Mandiberg plans to Print Wikipedia. Print Wikipedia as “both a utilitarian visualization of the largest accumulation of human knowledge and a poetic gesture towards the futility of the scale of big data.” The first exhibition of his series, called From Aaaaa! to ZZZap! opens June 18 in Downtown Manhattan. The exhibition will see Mandiberg constantly printing Wikipedia pages using Lulu.com for fourteen days.
Keeping up with Wikipedia in real-time is impossible. Mandiberg would have to reprint every page almost immediately because of the non-stop editing. But let’s ignore the editing and say Mandiberg is using a printer that produces 50 pages per minute. (Why not keeping using Wikipedia as a legitimate source? Wikipedia says some of the fastest laser printers can print 100 pages per minute.) If only 750 new pages are added per day (assuming they are one printed page long), those can be knocked out in just 15 minutes. The entirety of Wikipedia, though – that 4,894,108 figure — would take 97,882 minutes, in which time another 17 hours of Wikipedia would be printed.
What does that mean for Mandiberg? His project is actually doable if he’s got the right printing resources, but it’s going to take slightly less than 69 days — considerably more if he runs out of ink.