Electronic Paper

(Originally discussed in IdealUmlCaseTool.)
It's a good start, but I think that the display technology has a way to go yet. I'm still waiting for MooresLaw to catch up to display technology - which hopefully some of the research at XeroxParc will lead to. They've got one technology that amounts to a very cheaply manufactured screen that consists of little electrically charged plastic balls rotating in a bed of oil. Vary the charge at any point and the balls change their orientation (flipping, say, from a black side to a white side - voila! a Monochrome monitor). If this sort of thing could scale up to whiteboard size, we'd really have something. I don't think that current display technologies (LCD, gas-plasma, etc.) are going to do that, though. -- KyleBrown
Wow! Latebreaking news on that Xerox display technology front - look what I just saw at xerox's web site: http://www.xerox.com/go/xrx/about_xerox/T_release1.jsp?view=news_archive&equip=none&oid=15161&trk=/News_Archive/Xerox%27_Electronic_Paper_to_be_Manufactured_by_3M/ [BrokenLink]

Also see http://www.parc.xerox.com/epaper [BrokenLink]

-- KyleBrown

And their competition: http://www.eink.com -- MarcoScheurer
Books are a better medium than computer monitors or LCD displays for most people. There is no way that an unreliable computer/device with a lower information density will ever replace a book in my hand.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte (Graphics Press; ISBN 096139210X ) has a great explanation of the information density differences. There is a vast difference in the density of information that can be placed on paper @ 2400dpi vs the best monitors @ 180dpi.

The reliability of the book device matters. When (not if) your entire site has failed and you need to remember how to start it booting try reading your on-line book or notes. An electronic book had better be available when all else fails. It must be able to retrieve a new copy of a book without using any of my network to do it; remember my network is down.

The image had better be as restful to read as paper of the correct brightness. I can read the same book continuously for 8 hours straight without eyestrain. 1 hour at any computer or LCD is enough to give me sore eyes and possibly a headache (not my machine).

The closest technology that comes even close to this is the electronic paper from MIT. It works by bringing a black dot to the surface of the sheet of plastic. It looks and feels like paper. A book with ~30 sheets of this stuff may work as long as the download/accessibility problems are dealt with.

We are printing more books, particularly to cope with the rapidly changing face of technology. On the other hand with eCommerce the print runs are getting smaller and the number of books that will need to be recycled is going down. There is even a technology that looks like it will be able to print a book on demand at your local bookstore - a book may never go out of print again.

Documents we print onto paper are still required because we don't have access to them at home because of paranoid work policies. We need them when things go wrong and computer access fails us. Usually the information density argument doesn't work here as people are printing text designed for the screen (I hate HTML web pages for this). Sites that don't provide a Postscript/Tex/PDF printable form for large documents should be punished or made accountable (if only society worked this way) for the amount of paper they cause other people to generate.

Short answer: Technology isn't quite there yet. The paperless office is marketing hype.

Ahhh, but then there's TheBestOfBothWorlds -- http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.04/anoto_pr.html -- this Swedish company that's developed a 1000 dpi. printable grid of cleverly coded dots, which if printed out on a single sheet of paper would cover the landmasses of Europe and Asia combined, but which they'll conveniently carve up into smaller pieces (e.g., A4, 8 1/2" x 11") for handwritten data entry, faxing, email, etc. using a special BlueTooth enabled pen. Quite amazing, check it out: http://www.anoto.com/

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