This is getting really, really close to the vision of the future that all the e-Ink dweebs have been yammering about for, oh, the last 40 years or so. The idea of an object that marries the (perceived) strengths of a newspaper with the electronic display have become something of an obsession for old-guard newspaper editors/publishers/curmudgeons.  More on that in a bit. 

For now, check out this nifty little Kindle-a-like…

I particularly like how the display can now handle much better grayscale, and especially how you can use a stylus (finger?) to control the display, write your own notes, etc.  The form factor of stuff welded to a hunk of plastic is obviously just a “placeholder,” so the ugly industrial look right now doesn’t bother me. 

We’re still missing the part where we can roll the damn thing up and stick it in a backpack or back pocket … but, given the delicate liquid crystals in the display, that vision of what the display can/will be is most likely a mirage anyway.  Also, I don’t think I’d recommend treating any of the rather toxic & corrosive battery technologies with such cavalier violence either.

With all the numbers that have come out this week about how the newspaper (and magazine) print products are convulsing in violent death throes, much faster than even the most pessimistic among us had feared, a vision of what the future of the news product might look like as shown here is somewhat heartening. 

And yeah, I know. Focusing in on a physical object that the news is delivered on is like a restaurant critic obsessing over the china pattern on the plate that the duck a l’orange is served on. 

However.  To extrapolate to the more trenchant issues in the newspaper industry – it’s more important to focus in on whether the duck is moldy, or the duck appears a day after you order it, or the other diners start pelting you with the green beans almondine while the waiter steals your wallet and screams in your ear about a real-estate opportunity… [Wow! I think I just waterboarded that metaphor! W00t! Yay me!]

While I love the idea of using one of these things to read the news, to have it in my pocket or carried around with my other junk, constantly updating me as to what’s going on … my fear is that newspapers & media companies will focus in on this as a possible magic solution to their problems.  This isn’t because the people in charge are bad, or stupid, or any of the other calumnies flung their way by the increasingly smug digerati (and mea culpa, I have been guilty of that myself on occasion).

It’s because newspapers are run by corporations these days, and corporate guys look to concrete, hard solutions to problems that they can wrap their minds around.  Problems with product distribution call for investment in shiny new trucks or routing equipment or big heavy steel cranes … things that you spend money on, that are built of metal and that have big engines in them that make the floor shake a little bit, and that make you feel like you spent your money on something substantial, something that has value.

In contrast, spending a buncha coin on a squishy, touchy-feely thing like “changing corporate culture,” or “re-imagining product possibilities,” or empowering entrepreneurial spirit” … well, a good example of this is the war in Iraq.  Or the war on drugs.

We spend massive sums on technological, physical solutions to what is basically a mental & spiritual problem.  We bomb the shit out of Fallujah, or build big radar dirigibles to patrol the border for cocaine smugglers, and wonder what it is that went wrong when the problem just morphs into some other face, and continues somewhere else, away from the heavy iron Death Machine we’ve constructed.


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