From Paintings on Stone Walls and Papyrus to E-Paper – Mediums of Reading

At the 2010 Dealer Convention, Sony presented a small exhibit of e-paper technology that has the potential to be used in Sony Reader devices in the future. The e-paper on display uses plastic substrate, instead of glass substrate, which is less likely to wear damage, is lighter, flexible, may be bent and is difficult to break. It would take more than plastic substrate to render e-paper more paper-like and Sony is being very hush hush about how it would make the leap to such a resilient e-paper material. If engineered, such an e-paper could be a defining factor in the future designs of e-readers over the next few years. Indeed, LG already claims to be manufacturing just such a product.
While the earliest sparks of the human desire to form narratives can be found on the stone walls of caves - where drawings (depictions), not writing, encapsulate the human experience – humans have been constantly evolving the writing materials by which they preserve their experiences and stories. From drawings (pictographs) and carvings (petroglyphs) on the stone walls of caves, tree bark and papyrus, the use of animal hides (parchment) and the invention of wood pulp paper, innovation has strongly driven what writing materials are used by humans. With the advent of the printing press, the cost of writing implements started to decrease and the template of the typewriter was adapted for computers in the form of keyboards. Today, electronic media is the underlying force of innovation.
What is most interesting about the progression of this innovation is the way in which these advancements have started to come full circle. Not only has technology become pivotal to how we record our narratives (whether it is in news or literature), but devices previously known for their utility in writing (such as computers) are now being devised with the purpose of reading.
Most materials throughout history have been employed for both writing and reading; take for example paper, stone walls in caves, etc – all except the computer which has primarily been used for the production of text. Even though the rapid emergence of e-readers signify a turning point in human reading practices, the desire to have the medium of the computer operate as a device for both writing and reading is difficult unless the computer is capable of replicating conventional paper. At least this seems to be the popular conception publicised by critics and e-reader designers.
The majority of analysis on e-readers would suggest that the computer monitor, as it presently exists (flat screen or not), is one of the only mediums which cannot easily be used for both writing and reading. Contemporary conceptualisations of e-reader designs seem to stake the success of the device on its capacity to replicate and mimic the experience of conventional paper. In this way, the proposed technological advancement of e-readers is hinged on its capacity to embrace the essential characteristics of older reading mediums. In this way, reading technologies are in a state of janus-faced innovation; embracing forward-thinking toward the digital, yet relying on the success of a tried and tested previous model.