Electronic paper is a technology that has become rather popular over the past decade or so within the modern world. The purpose of the present essay is to provide an overview of electronic paper.
Technology and history of electronic paper
This overview will consist of four main parts. The first part of this sample research paper will discuss the technology and the history of electronic paper. The second part will discuss a couple of the main electronic paper devices that are available on the market today. The third part will consider some of the advantages of electronic paper relative both to ordinary paper and to other electronic display devices. Finally, the fourth part will reflect on the potential future of electronic paper technology.
Development of electronic paper
At the most basic level, electronic paper refers to technology that provides the user with a paper-like display of text on an electronic device. As Bethell has written:
“One of the main goals of EPD [electronic paper display] is to as closely recreate the contrast and readability of physical pen and paper as possible” (paragraph 7).
There are various reasons for achieving this contrast is understood as desirable; these reasons range from the aesthetic (i.e. it looks nicer) to the pragmatic (i.e. it feels better). The substance that is used in order to mark and convey the text on electronic paper is called electronic ink. For present purposes, the important thing to understand is that electronic paper is conceptually quite similar to all other devices—such as computers, smartphones, and tablets—that produce text on an electronic display.
The main factors that differentiate electronic paper from these other technologies are: one, the look and feel of the device; and two, the fact that electronic paper is solely dedicated to displaying text, which means that it has very long battery life and requires almost no power to run.
In terms of history, it would seem to be rather clear that although electronic paper has in fact had some precursors, the technology as it is presently understood today can be more or less traced to the early 2000s. In 2001, for example, Mann wrote about the “e-book” as if no one had ever seen such a thing before:
“The new e-books were on display in the exhibit space. They were, for the most part, keyboardless computers, each about the size of a paperback. Visitors gingerly tapped the screen or thumbed a button to ‘turn’ the pages on these gray boxes” (paragraph 3).
Looking at this description from the year 2015, one finds it to be almost funny: it is really quite remarkable how far electronic technology has developed over the course of the last mere fifteen years.
Likewise, in the year 2008, Taub wrote about the introduction of an e-newspaper reader by a company called Plastic Logic, observing that
“the electronic newspaper, a large portable screen that is constantly updated with the latest news, has been a prop in science fiction for ages. It also figures in the dreams of newspaper publishers struggling with rising production and delivering costs” (paragraph 1).
Now, it would seem that the technology underlying e-newspapers has still not developed significantly as of the year 2015. The point here, though, is that this was actually a somewhat early example of the use of electronic paper. The same article also makes references to Amazon’s Kindle (the original) and a similar device developed by Sony.
The real prevalence of electronic paper can thus be traced back to these devices and their successors: that is, they can be traced back about seven or eight years from the present. The fact that electronic paper has become almost ubiquitous over this span of time does not fundamentally detract from the novelty or the short history of this emerging communication technology within the modern world.
Real-world applications of electronic paper
The most common contemporary application of electronic paper is clearly for e-reader devices. Some of the more popular of such devices include the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Amazon Kindle. The main purpose of these devices is to enable the storage and retrieval of a large number of electronic books, or books that have been stored in a specific file format that can be read by the e-reader.
In a day and age in which people are generally far more accustomed to reading material on their computers than picking up an actual book, the e-reader potentially fulfills the role of bridging the gap between these two media: it is electronic like the computer, but it holds books in their entirety, and the color contrast of the devices simulate the visual experience of reading an actual book.
Another emerging application of electronic paper is not so much for reading electronic books but rather actually producing and storing electronic documents. Last year, for example, Sony released an electronic paper device that
“replaces spiral notebooks, legal pads, and file folders with a high-contrast, reflective 13.3. inch e-paper display. It’s housed in a 12.6 ounce body, which Sony said is the world’s thinnest and lightest among 9-plus-inch mobile devices” (Mlot, paragraph 2).
Moreover, this device features not only electronic paper but also electronic ink: that is, the user can utilize a stylus in order to actually make marks and produce documents by writing on the electronic paper of the device. This can be understood as conceptually different from the basic e-reader application of electronic paper; and if it takes off, then it could potentially bring about a great deal of change in how documents are created, organized, and stored within office spaces.
More generally, it can be suggested that electronic paper could really be used for most of the purposes that ordinary paper has historically been used. This includes books and office documents; and the concept of the e-newspaper has also been briefly discussed above. Moreover, in at least some restaurants and cafes, people have probably begun to notice that instead of printing up receipts and requesting signatures, servers hold up an iPad or similar device, and request the patron to simply press the relevant buttons on the screen.
Now, the iPad is not a true example of electronic paper, insofar as the screen is not calibrated to resemble actual paper; however, it is increasingly serving a function similar to electronic paper insofar as it is supplanting actual paper within the context of everyday life. This trend can presumably be expected to continue into the future; this will be discussed further below.
Advantages of electronic paper
Relative to physical paper, electronic paper clearly has a couple pragmatic advantages. The first of these is storage: whereas a physical library requires a significant amount of space and is difficult to transport, an e-reader can allow one to carry around hundreds of books within one’s very backpack. Similarly, another advantage of electronic paper pertains to the conservation of resources and other environmental concerns.
Physical paper needs to be manufactured from trees or recycled materials, and it needs to be disposed of in a proper way if it is to avoid ending up in the landfill. Electronic paper, on the other hand, requires virtually no resources whatsoever: one simply plugs it in, and it uses very little power in order to run. Likewise, electronic paper that is enabled with wi-fi capabilities can enable the direct communication of documents between different people connected to the network, whereas such communication would be considerably more difficult if transfers must be done in a physical way. In short, electronic paper has several pragmatic advantages over physical paper.
Electronic paper also has certain significant advantages over other kinds of electronic displays, such as LCD technology. Tai et al., for example, found that looking at LCD displays for an extended period of time caused headaches in users at a significantly greater rate than looking at electronic paper for extended amounts of time. This is related to the brightness and contrast levels that can be found in these different kinds of displays.
Electronic paper mimics actual paper in these respects: that is, it makes sure that the light that is emanating from the screen resembles the natural light that would fall on a physical page if one were reading an actual book. LCD screens, on the other hand, are not designed with such considerations in mind. Moreover, aside from actual health effects, it would seem that people generally tend to find electronic paper just more aesthetically pleasing, for similar reasons. People are used to reading and writing on actual paper, and the more electronic paper simulates this experience, the more people can be expected to like it.
One concern that could perhaps be raised here, though, pertains to the potential ways in which electronic paper may change how people perceive and interact with information. Taub, for example, pointed out that e-newspaper would automatically refresh their news stories, and that newspaper companies may even be able to collect information about readership trends from the devices themselves.
Likewise, it is unclear whether reading an e-book actually does simulate the first-person experience of reading a physical book, or whether the user feels somewhat disengaged, as if he were (for example) surfing the web. In other words, one could wonder about whether the very fact that electronic paper involves an electronic display changes how people interact with the device, irrespective of how closely it simulates the experience of reading and writing on actual paper. This point would open up onto broader concerns about the nature of people’s relationship with technology in the modern world.
What the future holds for this new technology
Mokey has summarized the future of electronic paper in the following way:
“While we may know electronic paper today for its near-ubiquitous use in eBook readers, the flexibility of the technology creates possibilities far above and beyond that very basic use. Unlike flying cars and personal teleporters, the paperless office of the future may not be so far-fetched after all” (paragraph 19).
A host of new electronic paper devices would seem to currently be in the works and can be expected to continue hitting markets over the course of the coming years. Moreover, Genuth has suggested that the economic focus in this area can be expected to increasingly shift to providing content, as opposed to the devices themselves. For example, if e-newspaper devices were to take off, it would not be implausible for newspapers to almost give away the devices, so that they can make their real profit off of the delivery of content to consumers.
In any event, electronic paper is clearly here to stay, and its uses can be expected to expand significantly over time, branching out from the focus on e-book readers to more diversified applications in virtually all areas of life in which actual paper has been commonly used.
In summary, this essay has consisted of an overview of electronic paper. The essay has discussed the technology and history of electronic paper, a couple examples of electronic paper devices, the advantages of electronic paper, and the future of electronic paper.
A main point that has emerged here is that electronic paper has certain key advantages over both actual physical paper and other comparable electronic display devices, and that the use of electronic paper can thus be expected to proliferate in the coming times. If any reservation can be lodged against this development, it is only from the perspective of how engaging with an electronic device could potentially affect the user’s experience of text and media content in a negative way.
Bethell, Josh. “What Are Electronic Paper Displays (EPD)? Clove. 17 May 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. .
Genuth, Iddo. “The Future of Electronic Paper.” The Future of Things. 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. .
Mann, Charles C. “Electronic Paper Turns the Page.” MIT Technology Review. 1 Mar. 2001. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. .
Mlot, Stephanie. “Sony Reveals $1,1000 Digital Paper Slate.” PC Magazine. 31 Mar. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. .
Mokey, Nick. “The Future of Electronic Paper.” Digital Trends. 20 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. .
Tai, Y.-C., Yang, S., Reder, A., & Sheedy, J. “Ambient Light & Computer Display: LCD vs. E-Paper.” Pacific University Oregon, n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. .
Taub, Eric A. “New E-Newspaper Reader Echoes Look of Paper.” New York Times. 7 Sep. 2008. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. .