Monday, November 1, 2010

Could Portable Digital 'Scrolls' Come Back in Fashion?

The Norwegian comedy TV show Øystein shows a monk calling a medieval help desk to show him how to use this new system that has been introduced: the book (or codex). The monk can open the book, but turning pages, following text across pages, and returning to the beginning are all baffling. The new system, he complains, is stopping him get any work done.
Of course, the humour stems from the fact that many of us have had similar experiences with computers and helpdesks. But an interesting point is raised by the show. Do the format advantages of a book over a scroll still matter within the context of digital media when portability, robustness, and comfort—in short travel concerns—take precedence?
While the tablet was used extensively for practicing and note-taking the demand for more portable, lasting content in a convenient format meant that the scroll came into fashion. But as texts grew in size, so too did scrolls grow in unwieldiness. As this Victorian painting from 1867 by Simeon Solomon shows, carrying scrolls could be hard work!

In fact flatbed designs predate scrolls considerably and remained in use long after the wide-spread adoption (the roll-out!) of scrolls. Wax tablets were used well into Roman times as this Pompeii mural from 79 and an illustration from 1305 from the Codex Manesse show. The tablet, much like the modern digital form, was used extensively by very early writers, who used either the finger or a stylus to imprint cuneiform (the word means wedge after the imprint of the stylus), hieroglyphics, pictographs, and letters on the surface of the wax or clay.

What's the point of an e-scroll? As our ancestors knew scrolls are portable and protected without covers, bags, and other accessories. The major issue with the new tablet forms now on the market is portability and damage from everyday use. The sensitive surface of the rolled screen is protected from impact, scratching, or marking. As space is no longer an issue for e-readers that can change the content appearing on the screen the added expense of doubled screens (to make a book form that can protect the display surfaces) and the unlikelihood of screens that could be 'folded' without damaging components means that e-scrolls are a much more likely scenario.

The elephant in the room here is that no electronic display on the market is yet able to bend enough to be rolled into a scroll. But new technology, a .1mm thin flexible AMOLED or Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode, is being developed by ITRI and other companies like Sony and LG are working on similar e-paper designs. Electronista 29 October 2010 It remains to be seen whether we will all be using scrolls in the future... again.

1 comment:

  1. I want my iScroll nooowww. I think people will adapt easily to scrolls - Web "pages" are scrolls already!