Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

A No-Paper Newspaper

Some coworkers and I were discussing The Future Of The Newspaper yesterday (a cheery topic--no, really), and one asked what sort of electronic device we might want to read "the paper" on.

I mentioned the first thing to come to mind--the "Newspad" described in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Technovelgy site, a nifty little database of sci-fi visions of future inventions, quotes this passage:

One by one he would conjure up the world's major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart, and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display unit's short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him.

Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination.

Clarke didn't foresee wireless networking, one-click hyperlinks or sites that would be updated constantly (his editors had it so easy!). But otherwise this tablet-like sounds a good deal like the Sony Reader.

Perhaps for that reason, after further pondering I don't see the newspaper of the future being read on such a device. The last 10 years or so of gadget evolution have shown that single-purpose devices too large for a pants pocket don't find a home in the mass market. Some of us may wind up reading the news on laptops or laptop-like devices when we have them handy, but I suspect day-to-day reading will take place on something smaller.

The iPhone's implementation of the Web is probably the closest example of how that could work. On that device, you've got the ability to see the entire "front page" at once, zoom in to read the stories you want, then jump back out to see what else is interesting. (Apple's ads make a point of demonstrating this exact feature, although why they insist on spotlighting some crummy NYC broadsheet is beyond me :)

In other words, the iPhone--its smaller size aside--is pretty much what Clarke foresaw. It's just a crying shame that he wasn't as prescient about the Pan Am space shuttle...

What sort of display device would you consider an acceptable substitute for a daily newspaper?

(If you're not interested in getting rid of paper, fear not--I'm going to take a look at that angle of the argument later on.)

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 12, 2007; 9:34 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: "URL" Considered Harmful
Next: A New Outlook on Office Software


I want a reading "wand" that unfurls/projects a solid surface.

There's something like it in Christian Volckman's 2006 film "Renaissance".

Posted by: Mike | September 12, 2007 10:00 AM | Report abuse

The roll-up OLED technology that we've been hearing about for a while would be nice. Something that you could keep in your pocket, but preferably unfold to 18"x18" or so.

It's possible that something like the Sony Reader could work, if they bring the price down and make it easier to place non-proprietary content on it.

Posted by: Jonathan | September 12, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Male audiences may drive the gadget market, but I think women could accept a larger, roll-up or fold-up reader that fits in a purse. I don't want to keep a bunch of bulky gadgets in my slim jeans anyway...

Posted by: Jenny | September 12, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I read WaPo everyday at the gym on my Sony PSP. I truly don't understand all this fuss over the iphone/ipop/iwhatever. My PSP has done all of that -- MP3s, video, Internet -- and more for three years now.

What I would like to see is more websites where you could change the format/size depending on the tool you are using.

Posted by: minniwanca | September 12, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

As an architect it continues to be a challenge to veiw large scale drawings on a small computer screen. This is a simular problem to the paperless newspaper issue. The selection of menus or the use of "zooming" is not an ideal solution. To take full advantage of our wide scope of vision would be best. What has or could be done with the intigration of video into eyeglasses? Navigation could be done through eye and eyelid movement.

Posted by: John | September 12, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

The one thing to remember is not just newspapers, but magazines -- and large photos and splashy layouts are one reason people still enjoy them. We need a device that can properly show high-res photos in a way that glossy paper can. I'm picturing something more flimsy and 8x10 (max), but operating like an iPhone.

Posted by: zapato | September 12, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I want a larger iPhone. The iPhone is great for instant-on access to newspapers and the rest of the Internet; however, the size is a little small. I want something like the size of current UMPCs but that are instant-on like the iPhone.

Posted by: Kurt | September 12, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

While something that folds or unrolls would be good, something capable of projecting might also function in the same way without the risk of tearing or creasing.

Of course, a more cyberpunk solution would be the ability to plug into the internet through some sort of wireless device directly from a device that exists in (or interfaces with our bodies.

Posted by: David S | September 12, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I want something small enough to put into my pocket or purse; however, I want to have the feel of turning pages. Being retired, I have not succumbed to amy kind of electronic reading device except my p.c. as I am home ninety percent of the time. I do listen to audio-books, however, so I guess that is an electronic reading device, but audile rather than visual.Some of the cassettes have now been made nearly as small as a credit card to be hooked on a key chain.

Posted by: Sue | September 12, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Don't think it will be newspaper alone: print (including magazine), broadcast, radio, Web. All by RSS feed or the like and something a user pre-selects from a universal menu fed to a mobile device of one's choosing.

Posted by: john riccio, glastonbury, ct, usa | September 12, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

The problem is, it has to be as robust as the paper. During the summer I spend my weekends in Ocean City and read the WaPo on the beach after surfing. (Rough life, isn't it?) So I need a device that can handle salt spray, blowing sand, being left in the sun, being left in the car. It also has to be viewable in full sunlight.

Oh, and it has to have batteries that can hold a charge all day.

Posted by: wiredog | September 12, 2007 2:54 PM | Report abuse

In the not too distant future the little ear piece millions of people call their "bluetooth" will also project a very sharp, holographic image just before us in whatever dimensions we desire. Transparency will be adjustable. I have seen lab models of such a tiny projector. Right now there are heads-up displays that project certain controls on windshields of different craft. Both devices will distract us from driving and life much like the iPod and mobile. Special glasses already allow users to watch wide-screen movies anywhere they want, except while driving!

Posted by: thw2006 | September 12, 2007 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I go way back with newspapers; my Dad wrote them and in the 40s and 50s I delivered them...when I got out of the navy in the 60s I started writing for them, a number of them, ink was in my blood...since I'm about four I was in and out of one pressroom or another in those days when Meregenthaler linotypes and the smell of lead were heavy in the late night.

I'm 64 now; in truth, after half a century of reading writing and working for newspapers now I read them only online.

In a generation the print media will suffer a devastating my opinion...meanwhile Dude, keep on, keepin' on...


TWard, Terry

Posted by: TWard, Terry | September 12, 2007 6:08 PM | Report abuse

In the TV show "Earth: Final Conflict," the humans used a roll-up video phone device. It was essentially a cylinder thing that was carried in the back pocket. When used, the person pulled out the screen and watched the moving image. Seems like a good way to carry a larger screen in a compact package.

Posted by: PeteB | September 12, 2007 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Did the following quick searches on Google:

Adolph Hitler 710,000 results
Abraham Lincoln 2,870,000 results
Jesus Christ 9,700,000 results
Muhammad 23,000,000 results
Britney Spears 45,500,000 results
George W. Bush 50,000,000 results

Is this what happens when we are left to our own (electronic) devices?

I almost exclusively read on line via computer screen but shudder at the consequences.

Posted by: KDoren | September 12, 2007 11:49 PM | Report abuse

As the publisher of a small paper, I've thought about this for a while. It's got to be something that maintains the integrity of the advertising/editorial layout, so the value remains the same for the advertisers. Readers don't necessarily think they care about such things and would be happy with all news, but it'd be tough to run a paper without revenue.

When I lived in DC 10 years ago, I felt sure it would have to be something thin and foldable that would roughly replicate the size of a standard newspaper page. I still believe that.

Posted by: Rob Holbert | September 13, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Printing presses, ink and paper are expensive. Internet access for a news service is cheap in comparison. Only the lack of a convenient display module and standardized levels of creditability keep the current news print shops alive. Reporters, columnists and investigators will always be around. Only the form of delivery will change for not only news papers but magazines, tabloids and books of all kinds.

I would like to see information providers given their own internet address extension. For instance NYTIMES.NEWS, PLAYBOY.MAG or INQUIRER.TAB. But, above all, I would like to see a common place where an objective evaluation of the content of each recognized info provider could be found. Sort of like movie ratings but something like a creditability rating of 1 to 10 where level 1 would be BELIEVABLE and 10 would be FANTASY. Anonymous entries should be ignored or classified as gossip.

Posted by: Richard Schuler | September 13, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Here's the device I'm waiting for: It would be the size of a magazine, just thick enough to accommodate a wired connection to a router or phone line as well as wi-fi. The software would be essentially stripped-down Linux and a browser with multimedia capability. A newspaper could hard-code the browser to open to the publication's home page (and its ads). The browser could otherwise be used to more or less freely surf the Web, probably with the aid of an I-Phone style on-screen keypad. Such a devide could be built cheaply with existing technology. A newspaper could tell subscribers that if they are willing to commit to a one- or two-year subscription contract, much as the phone company does, they could have the device for free.

Posted by: DC Proud | September 13, 2007 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I have a Sony Reader and love it (flaws and all). However, I'll ditch it in a second when/if the Philips "Readius E-Reader" becomes available ( In the meantime, reading news online is good enough for me!

Posted by: JakesFriend | September 14, 2007 8:48 AM | Report abuse

I've been reading online news sites regularly on my Palm TX. Many sites we'll automatically forward you to a "mobile" site which adjusts for a mobile device. I think there is a downside in trying to manipulate a full blown web site on a small screen, like the Ipod touch.

BTW, Opera Mini browser allows me to zoom in on full size web sites on my Palm TX if I wish.

Posted by: skshrews | September 16, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

puhleeze! do not allude to, quote or paraphrase shakespeare if you have never seen, heard or read him! (oct.19 editorial "crisis comes to IMF") polonius' "borrower nor a lender" speech was directed to his son, laertes...NOT TO HAMLET!

Posted by: jeff bender | October 19, 2007 5:19 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company