Around ten years ago I read a howstuffworks article about “electronic ink,” a then-experimental screen tech that used an electronically-altered physical display. It promised the potential to create a book that was all books—plus all articles, all charts, or any other written material. This prospect stuck in my brain, a power-efficient, lightweight package that could provide the content of an entire library, while maintaining paper’s readability.
the first “electronic paper” ebook, but it came with so little fanfare that I was afraid the tech was going to die out.
Then in 2007 Amazon released the Kindle, and it sold out immediately. Suddenly the tech I’d been following for years was big news, and I really wanted in. I told myself I would wait until the price was more reasonable, or a second generation version landed. I lasted exactly one year, until the first $50 price drop. How could I resist? I am not made of stone, and occasionally have disposable income.
Now my first generation Kindle looks clunky and awkward next to the sleek, fast Model A readers on the market. But even that early ebook hardware manages to be a pretty incredible device. It gives me all the benefits I imagined, but also provides a number of advantages I never even considered all those years ago. By ratcheting the device’s text size up a notch, I’ve found that I almost never get eye strain anymore—those long, small-type books all show up the same way to me. The ability to search my library for a word or phrase is invaluable, letting me quickly rediscover a story or reference I happen to think of, and the built in dictionary nets me definitions for unfamiliar words that I would have read right past on paper. Electronic ink makes all that possible, importing computer-like features into the casual reading experience. It’s the best of both worlds.
Every time I get bored with a nonfiction work and casually switch to a novel, or buy a recommended book without going to the store, or read a public domain classic without having to print it out, I remember that I’m living in the future. Electronic paper has, in essence, provided me with the ultimate book, and for that I’m thankful.
Image via flickr user kodomut