Tuesday, August 31, 2010

History of Technology

I use a getting-old laptop with a screen that is roughly square.  Looking at new models, I can't help noticing that they all now offer rectangular screens, a good deal wider than high.

This is where the 'net is going. Screens are being letter-boxed to match the picture shape of the DVDs and downloaded films that everyone is watching online. Laptops are growing wider. They are adding numerical keypads and still have acres of space either side.

But some of us write and read on computer screens. For that, it still makes sense to have text lines that are not too long for comprehension and to have screens that can show us quite a few lines of text at once. That is, our ideal screen would be something more like the shape of an 8x11 sheet of paper, taller than it is wide.

I got a feeling it ain't gonna happen, not outside of a specialty market high-price option anyway. Technology: win some, lose some.

September 2: Thad McIlroy of The Future of Publishing notes the potential of two-page display on those wide screens:
(Saw your post via Eoin Purcell).

The default resolution for early VGA monitors was 640 x 480...so manufacturers never started out thinking "let's make this like a page". That aspect ratio was maintained, give or take, for a couple of decades, while resolution improved substantially.

When I began in "desktop publishing" in the mid-1980s there was a company called Radius in Silicon Valley that made what as I recall was named the "Single Page Display" which was about 9 x 12 (and black & white only). Very popular for 15 minutes or so. That led to the "Dual Page Display" monitors from Radius, SuperMac and perhaps a few others that could properly display a 2-page spread at full size. This was ideal for designers who mostly worked on 2-page spreads with trim sizes of between 8 x 10 and 8-1/2 x 11.

I agree with you that today's monitors are designed primarily for movie display. But the really big ones, like Apple's top-of-the-line are great for 2-page display with room to spare.

In the late 1980s, Ted Nelson, often acknowledged as the true father of hypermedia, told (the now defunct) Seybold Seminars audience: “Here we are using some of the finest technology of the 20th century to recreate the experience of reading on paper.” It startled me at the time, and ever since have questioned the whole notion of trying to migrate an analog experience into the digital realm.

As hard as they tried, backlit monitors were never ideal for reading, hence the popularity of E Ink displays on dedicated e-readers.

For myself paper works just fine (although I do spend about 5-6 hours a day reading shorter text on a large well-calibrated LCD).
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