Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

There’s No Paper in the Office and No Film in Your Camera?…

If you want to get my immediate attention don’t send me an e-mail. Send me a fax. When a fax arrives, it just begs to be looked at. And it is so convenient to instantly see what it’s about. It’s real and something simply must be done with it or it just sits there in the middle of my desk staring back at me, taking up useful space. E-mail has no such desire for instant attention. It arrives – along with dozens of spam messages -- and can easily be saved for “later.”

“Later” can become “quite a bit later” as the screen-saver conveniently covers up the offending messages and any feelings of guilt are thereby also put off until “later.” As the list of unanswered messages grows ever longer, there does come a time when one is compelled to generate the expected responses. For me this is typically undertaken at the end of the day when I have taken care of the items on my desk, including, of course, any faxes that may have come in. Thus, the convenience and instant visibility of the fax seems to win out every time. Even with print quality not as good as laser-printed e-mail, a fax wins because I did not have to do anything special to get the printed copy. It just showed up.

The paperless office seemed so obvious to the technology prognosticators of a few decades ago. Now, it is almost embarrassing to think that such wild and off-base predictions were made and accepted as fact. If the prognosticators were so far off on this topic, can we believe anything that is being touted today? Well, actually probably not. I think we, as active participants in the display community, can do about as well, or perhaps even better, as any of the folks that try to become famous by making outrageous claims – such as predicting the imminent demise of the auto industry, or the paperless office, for example.
I recently read that HP actually abandoned the fax machine business in 1994 and then got back into it in 1998 when they realized that the fax machine was not going to go away. Today the fax-machine business is healthy and growing with sales of over 1.5 million machines last year in the US alone.

However, I think there is more to appreciate here than just noting that the paperless office did not happen. The way we generate paper today is much different than twenty years ago. Even though I like my fax machine, the reason why it is so useful is often tied to my computer-generated information. And the reason we have so much information to put onto those pieces of paper that come spewing out of our printers and fax machines is because we create it using compute power and data communications capability that didn’t exist two decades ago. It just turned out -- to the surprise of many -- that we found paper to be a very nice container for much of this information. Because of the visual cues, quick retrieval, and archival capability that paper documents provide, we are going to keep using them for the foreseeable future.

In the late 80s and early 90s there was a magic period when the PC was evolving and we all finally figured out what we could do with it. And soon thereafter, why we could no longer live without it. We are now going through a similar period with imaging technology.

Digital cameras are reaching image capture capabilities that are matching and recently even exceeding the best that film can offer. And digital cameras are now being incorporated into all kinds of electronic devices. Surely it is only a matter of time until chemical photography is only of interest to a few old-time hobbyists or “artsy types”! Are you really sure? If that happens, such an outcome will be a diametric opposite to what computers did for the use of paper. Therefore, let me suggest a possible alternate scenario.

Today, what gives me great discomfort is that the images stored on my computer will one day abruptly and unexpectedly disappear – like a permanent power outage. What if my hard disk crashes? What if my computer catches a nasty virus? What if some other key component fails? If I were diligent, I would be backing up my files onto some independent storage medium on a daily basis. But I don’t have the discipline, the time, or the interest to do that, at least not on the regular basis that it should be done. Would I even trust the back-up medium? However, what would work for me would be to have a film recorder attached to my computer, just as I now have several printers, that would record all of the images I wish to retain onto a roll of film. I personally would prefer a 6x7cm format for the highest resolution and image content. Then I could get these processed whenever it was convenient for me to take them, or send them, to a local lab.

A few days ago, I was searching through some of my 2_ format negatives (and positives) for certain images to put up on this site. It was comforting to see “real” images that could not be destroyed by a virus or a computer crash. And the retrieval process was instantly obvious and comfortable. Looking over page after page of images was no different than glancing through a printed document.

The advantage of archiving on film rather than simply printing out a photo, or putting it on a CD, is that film (especially in a larger format such as 6x7) can archive the equivalent of at least 50 megapixels of information for each image in a compact, long lasting, and instantly recognizable format. And this storage medium does not depend on the latest developments in computer memory. I can just as readily scan images put on film a hundred years ago as those made yesterday.

I would be among the first customers if one of the major film companies, such as Kodak or Fuji, brought a product to market that, with a simple save command, captured the images that I have on my computer onto a roll of film using this specialized “archival image recorder”. Of course, this film writer could easily be combined with a scanner so that both the input and output functions are encompassed.

If the major companies don’t want to do this, should we propose a new start-up company to take this on? Let me know if you think this would be a product that you would find useful. Perhaps we can pass these comments on to an existing film company to encourage them to bring out a product that could just be that exciting new application that ends up -- saving the film business. You can contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at Email, by telephone at 425-898-9117, or by the “attention-getting” fax at 425-898-1727.