Electric Tales—21st Century BooksIt may be the last book you'll ever buy. And certainly, f
Electric Tales—21st Century Books
It may be the last book you'll ever buy. And certainly, from a practical standpoint, it will be the only book you'll ever need. No, It's not the Bible or some New Age tome promising enlightenment—although it would let you carry around both texts simultaneously. It's an electronic book—a single volume that could contain a library of information or, if your tastes run toward what's current, every title on today's best-seller list. And when you're done with those, you could refill it with new titles.
Why an electronic book？ Computers can store a ton of data and their laptop companions make all that information portable. True enough. But laptops and similar portable information devices require a lot of power—and heavy batteries—to keep their LCD screens operating. And LCDs are not easy to read in the bright light of the sun.
The fact is, when it comes to portability, easy viewing, and low power requirements, it's hard to beat plain old paper.
So let's make the ink electronic.
That's the deceptively simple premise behind a project currently coming to fruition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some hurdles mostly having to do with large-scale manufacturing—remain, so it will be a few years before you see an electronic book for sale in stores. But the basic technology already exists, developed at the Institute's Media Lab by a team led by physicist Joe Jacobson.
Simply put, each paper page in an electronic book is coated with millions of microscopic particles encased in tiny capsules. Each of these microcapsules can respond independently to an electrical charge: Particles within the capsule moving to the rear appear dark while those moving toward the front look white. The direction in which the particles move depends upon whether a negative (dark) or positive (white) charge is applied. Each microcapsule is about 40 microns in size (that’s a little less than half the thickness of a human hair ).
The number of microcapsules used on a given page is enormous. For instance, about 1,000 microcapsules might be used to create the letter “A” on this page. “The smaller the size of the letter the more micro-capsules you use,” says Jacobson, “thereby improving resolution.” The target is to have a “paper display” with a resolution higher than that offered by today's computer screens. More than static letters is at stake. Theoretically, the microcapsules could be programmed to “flip” rapidly between dark and white states, providing, for example, a sense of motion in a diagram showing how a car works.
Thanks to electronic ink, the book essentially typesets itself, receiving instructions for each page via electronics housed in the spine. From a power standpoint, this process makes the electronic book very efficient. Unlike an LCD screen, which uses power all the time, energy is no longer needed to view the electronic book's pages once they are typeset. Only a small battery would be required, as opposed to the large ones needed to power laptop computers and their LCDs.
Convenience, though, is still the main attraction—and that means more than simple portability. Because the information is in electronic form, it can be easily manipulated. You could, for instance, make the type larger for easier reading. Or you could make notes in the margin with a stylus, your observations being stored on tiny, removable flash-memory cards in the spine.
It's likely that electronic books will come pre-loaded with a selection of titles. New titles could be made available through flash-memory cards, for example. Jacobson, though, thinks the Internet will be the delivery method: of choice. Imagine browsing through an online bookstore like http://www.Amazon.com. and downloading a novel into your electronic book via the modem in its spine. Transmitting Moby Dick would take about a
B．A single volume.
C．New Age tome.
D．An electronic book.