23 February 2006

The end of newsprint

This is completely off-topic, but anyone who knows me will recognize the subject matter as something I've been harping about for the past decade: E-paper.

I've long considered the notion of a single-use medium like newsprint to be an egregious waste of a resources. Yes, we can recycle the cellulose of newsprint, but that requires energy, water and more ink. Yes, reading online solves those problems, but even the slimmest laptop fails to replicate the convenience, eye-friendliness and portability of newsprint. If only we had some kind of light-weight, flexible, instantly-erasable medium, we'd be set.

Such technology has been around in prototypical form for a few years. Paper-thin, large-format posters that can be redrawn in a microsecond are available -- for a price. But now, at long last, a tabloid-sized device that could will replace the newspaper is finally at hand.

Readers of the Belgian newspaper De Tijd will be the guinea pigs for the roll-out of the first electronic paper, beginning this April, according to M&C Tech and New Scientist:
De Tijd is providing readers with a portable device that holds a paper-thin screen the size of a newspaper page, filled with millions of black and white microcapsules. When an electrical current with data is sent through the screen, these microcapsules form letters that are as sharp as regular newspaper print. The electronic 'ink' has 16 levels of grey. When readers flip to the next page or choose a specific article, the particles scramble and rearrange. The pliable screens do not flicker and can therefore be read either indoors or outdoors.
The display is the size of two laptops, but needs 100 times less energy than a normal laptop screen. Based on an average use of three hours a day, the battery runs for more than a week. A storage space of 244 mega bytes is sufficient for filing one month of newspapers, plus 30 books, as well as office documents in different formats.
It will cost 400 Euros, but a select group of readers will get them for free and when mass production begins, the price should fall to something more reasonable. I can hardly wait for the technology to make it to this side of the pond.

If this sounds too much like technophilia, well, you're welcome to your cynicism. My prediction: at least one major daily newspaper abandons increasingly expensive newsprint in favor of some version of e-paper by 2012.


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