We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Magic ink on magic paper

Ever since Instapundit pointed out, during all that faking of stories scandal, that the NYT may be politically all over the place on pages one, two, etc., but that on page n as n tends to infinity it has great technology coverage, I’ve been making a point of looking at that, and he’s right.

This, for example, from the New York Times today, sounds really interesting:

Standing on four metal legs, under two banks of fluorescent lights, was what appeared to be a modest-size billboard, measuring about 9 feet wide by 4 feet in height. Across its face, which looks like paper under glass, was a full-color advertisement for a soft drink maker. A few moments later the ad disappeared and was digitally replaced with a different one, and then another, like a screensaver cycling through images on a laptop computer screen.

But the surface of this billboard is not a liquid crystal diode screen – the energy-hungry display common to laptops and increasingly to cellphones, digital cameras, digital organizers and flat-screen computer monitors and television sets. Neither does this billboard share the light-emitting-diode technology that makes million-dollar-plus video screens light up the night in Times Square, Las Vegas and sports arenas around the world.

What makes the electronic billboard in Jersey City possible (and those installed for trials in London, Tokyo, Toronto and Panama City, among other locations) is an innovation by a New York-based display technology company whose name, Magink, is a combination of the words magic and ink. Its approach to imaging departs from the way most text, graphics and images are electronically presented, including the way expensive plasma screens work, as well as cathode-ray tubes, the old workhorses still found in most television sets and desktop computer monitors.

By creating a paste made of tiny helix-shaped particles that can be minutely manipulated with electric charges to reflect light in highly specific ways, Magink can produce surfaces that look like paper but behave like electronic screens, rendering high-resolution, full-color images without ink – or, as Magink executives like to refer to the process, with digital ink.

Ran Poliakine, chief executive of Magink, said the idea was to create visually compelling ads that could be replaced frequently – perhaps hourly, based on consumer response – and could be controlled remotely, all with far less energy and at a far lower cost than a video billboard.

It looks like paper. It’s cheaper than the usual screens, and easier to update. “Digital ink.” Wow.

I’m not any sort of techno-buff, but it sounds as if this technology differs radically from the usual screen technology in that it starts out being pretty big, but is rather hard to make small enough to fit on my desk. But they’ll get there, surely.

I don’t know about you, but when I am faced with a twenty page article on the internet, I do a print-out. Paper is just so much nicer than that screen shining so brightly at you. It’s the difference between reading something on the surface of a torch, and reading something on a surface. This stuff doesn’t shine light at you in an exhausting glare. It just reflects it, the way paper does.

It often happens that advertising cleans out the tubes of a new way of presenting messages, if only because novelty itself is the lifeblood of advertising – it gets your attention even if it does look cranky, because it looks cranky. Ten years later, it isn’t so cranky anymore and the advertisers are losing interest. But the R&D has had a big early contribution and Western Civilisation marches onwards. Just one more reason to love advertising.

Because what this really sounds like to me is the future of … reading!

4 comments to Magic ink on magic paper

  • Verity

    Is this the same thing as The Daily Telegraph has just sent to my computer? The newspaper edition, and you can read it just like a newspaper, turning pages and everything. It looks really good, but I think they’re going to charge for it.

  • Julian Morrison

    Digital ink sounds to me like it will be more a poster thing, less a “newspaper” or “book” thing. There’s no real reason why you’d want to download a book to paper – but self updating train timetables, or self updating price labels in supermarket shelves, would be seriously useful.

  • Ron

    How vandal-proof is it likely to be?

  • I have read entire books by downloading them to my Palm PDA, and I do the same for long articles. I just use Plucker to download my current reading list.

    You are right, one day we will have that new technology in the palm of our hand.