I realized the need for e-paper in 1989. At Xerox PARC, we had long predicted the advent of the paperless office, with the widespread adoption of the personal computer we pioneered. The paperless office never happened. Instead, the personal computer caused more paper to be consumed. I realized that most of the paper consumption was caused by a difference in comfort level between reading documents on paper and reading them on the CRT screen. Any document over a half page in length was likely to be printed, subsequently read, and discarded within a day. There was a need for a paper-like electronic display—e-paper! It needed to have as many paper properties as possible, because ink on paper is the “perfect display.” Subsequently, I realized that the Gyricon display, which I had invented in the early 70s, was a good candidate for use as e-paper.
(Nick Sheridon, “Father of E-paper,” interviewed at The Future of Things)
I confess that I print nearly everything I have to read for my job, even though I spend all day (and night, obviously) reading text—much of it far longer than half a page—from a computer screen. I try to justify this by saying that I need to be able to mark things up, and that I don’t print anything at home. (Because I can’t. Because my inkjet got gummed up and I’m tired of fixing it.) But I do often e-mail PDFs to myself and print them at the office. Have you ever tried to cook from a recipe on your laptop screen? It sucks, especially if you have limited counter space.
At least I usually print on both sides.
I like to tell people that the holy grail of e-paper will be embodied as a cylindrical tube, about 1 centimeter in diameter and 15 to 20 centimeters long, that a person can comfortably carry in his or her pocket. The tube will contain a tightly rolled sheet of e-paper that can be spooled out of a slit in the tube as a flat sheet, for reading, and stored again at the touch of a button. Information will be downloaded—there will be simple user interface—from an overhead satellite, a cell phone network, or an internal memory chip. This document reader will be used for e-mail, the Internet, books downloaded from a global digital library that is currently under construction, technical manuals, newspapers (perhaps in larger format), magazines, and so forth, anywhere on the planet. It will cost less than $100, and nearly everyone will have one!
Do you think this is really going to happen? Are people one day going to look back and say, “Can you believe they used to grind up trees to put their text on?!?” I’m hardly a Luddite, but I find it difficult to imagine this. Inorganic paper, of course—we have that now, I’m sure*—but e-paper? You would have to be able to write on the stuff, too, in order for it to become ubiquitous, no? And you would have to be able to trust that your paper wouldn’t crash and lose all your text. The text would all be stored in a global digital library? Hello, privacy nightmare! Also, DRM, no doubt. You might still need paper, or something as versatile as paper, for short-term text storage, or for anything you want to record but keep to yourself.
Am I just superbad at imagining things?
* Too lazy to look it up.