After pages

For a number of years after the invention of the horseless carriage, its form factor continued to resemble that of the horse drawn carriage. Over time, those similarities became progressively less appropriate, and in some ways they started to become downright inconvenient.

Horse drawn carriages had evolved to optimize for the conditions in which they typically operated — relatively slow speeds, and often very very bad road conditions. So the wheels needed to be huge, with very large clearance between carriage and ground, and the steering mechanism was optimized for this form factor and for slow speeds.

The co-evolution of automobiles and paved roads changed the game completely. Once they could run on more modern roads, and therefore operate at far higher velocity, automobiles quickly evolved in design away from the early “horseless carriage” and toward the form factor we know today.

Today, when books on paper and ebooks coexist, ebooks are still organized into pages, roughly simulating the experience of reading a physical book. But at some point in the near future, physical books might become so marginalized that they will no longer be a driving force in the design of a reader’s experience.

When this happens, the page as a form factor might simply go away, to be replaced by something more appropriate to the experience of reading text on a screen. Just as the form factor of the ancient papyrus — one long continuous sequence of lines of text — was long ago replaced by the discrete random-access structure of text organized into sequential pages of paper, we might soon see another radical change in text organization, as the very concept of a “page” gradually fades into history.

2 thoughts on “After pages”

  1. Ironically, the current eInk displays do much better with discrete pages than a continuous scroll, because the refresh is relatively slow. OLED/LCD displays aren’t yet quite bright & low power enough to compete with them. So pages still make sense, even after initially getting rid of the paper. Given the huge market opportunity, I suspect somebody will eventually come up with an quickly refreshed reflective display (Qualcomm’s Mirasol?). Then the “page” may finally go.

    It’s funny, for many years, I loved and collected books. But I’m slowly beginning to regard them as clutter. Every so often I pick up a few books I can’t quite part with, saw their spines off, and feed them into the scanner.

  2. Yet we are still limited to viewing the infinite canvas through a fixed aperture of some sort. The best uses I’ve seen of it artistically are a step back (chronologically) towards the scroll. Perhaps panning and zooming huge maps is sufficiently more powerful than attempting to do the same with paper (or microfilm) that it constitutes something new?

    Or, putting the emphasis on “sequential”, should we look towards hypertext? It’s funny how the web “page” has always transcended fixed pagination, and web browsers are still prone to goofs like producing a final blank sheet when translating to the legacy page.

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