Question: Is a full USB stick heavier than an empty one?
The intuitive answer to the question is a strong shake of the head, but then you start to think.
Does a USB stick with data weigh more? Simply explained.
How does data storage on flash memory media work?
Digital information is stored in binary form, that is, as a sequence of ones and zeros. A flash memory consists of transistors whose main component is the floating gate.
By applying a voltage, an electron from other areas of the capacitor enters the floating gate. So here only a redistribution of mass takes place. The number of electrons remains the same.
For charge compensation, a charge with a different polarity must be present around the localized charge.
Thus we have a minus and plus polarity, which generate an electric field. And this has a mass according to E=mc^2. However, the mass difference generated on a USB stick is unspeakably small. Beyond the measurable range.
Theoretically, a full USB stick actually weighs more than an empty one, but practically not.
New stick versus empty stick
In addition, we have to differentiate in the mass difference whether it is a completely new stick consisting of zeros only, or a used stick from which the data has been erased as usual.
With the conventional deletion process, only the entries from the corresponding directory are deleted, i.e. only a negligible part of the data.
An empty USB stick that has already been used would therefore have an even smaller difference in mass. In addition, data information rarely consists exclusively of ones, but of a combination of ones and zeros.
How does the whole thing scale?
There is no measurable effect on the USB stick, but if you transfer the whole thing to huge servers, it becomes more exciting. Some years ago, the team around Michael Stevens had the fun of calculating the weight of the internet and a video about it was produced by vsauce.
Conclusion: The internet weighs 50g - as much as a big strawberry or half a bar of chocolate. Today it is certainly even heavier.