Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


How Will We Remember?…

This morning I stood in front of my bookshelf and pondered.  Hmmm…  I was looking for something optics related.  It was in the general area of how light behaves in non-linear media.  Not having a precise idea of what I was searching for I didn’t quite know where I should begin.  A book that had been used as a text for one of my courses in graduate school soon caught my attention.  A cursory browsing through the pages quickly led me to several topics of interest.  As I perused, I began to recall some of the lectures and general concepts that had been taught in that course – quite a number of years ago.  Soon I was engrossed in a review of the topic of my current interest and the foundational concepts that were going to prove of great help in putting it all into proper context. 

How quaint!  Doesn’t this way of finding information sound a bit “old fashioned” to at least some of you?  Wouldn’t it have been quicker and more up-to-date to just do a Google search?  After all, Aris, this is the 21st century!  Aren’t printed books on their way toward obsolescence?  Some colleges are apparently already beginning to introduce electronic books as a replacement to traditional printed texts. 

Since I spend a good part of my day in front of a computer screen and Google searches are very much a part of my routine activities, I don’t consider myself totally in the dark ages.  However, the push toward having all of our information in electronic form does create a new world-order that may require that we come up with some new ways to adapt.  The traditional ways that we have had available to organize our knowledge base and how we quickly access it may disappear.  We may have to come up with something new to replace the convenient visual clues of printed books; books with pages that can be quickly and conveniently browsed to locate a piece of information that may be difficult to describe with sufficient specificity for a search engine to give us what we are looking for. 

Another interesting aspect of electronic information is where it currently resides and where it’s likely to reside in the future.  With my printed books, I know exactly where they are and no matter how long they are around they can be read.  The information will be just as accessible in ten, twenty, or fifty years as it is today.  So far this has not been the case with electronic data storage media.  Do you still have a computer that can read a 5 1/4” floppy disk?   Do you still have capability for reading and writing to a 3 ½ “ disk or a “zip” drive?  If your favorite college text had been stored on any of these media, you would either need to have it converted or the information would be gone forever.  

So far we have been on about a 5 to 10-year cycle with new incompatible electronic storage media replacing whatever has come before.  The next generation of electronic storage appears to be independent of hardware as we enter the age of “cloud” computing.  This has already been presaged by the search capabilities that allow us temporary access to information that is stored somewhere in some giant server farm.  We can, of course, save the results of our searches if we wish, but the concept of remotely centralized data storage is growing with each passing day. 

Historical context and the ability to quickly overview the technical fundamentals already known is of great value when tackling difficult new technical problems.  That kind of knowledge has traditionally existed in printed books, technical papers, and in the minds of senior engineers who are respected for all the ways they know how “not to do something”.  Losing that connection to the body of previously hard-won knowledge would indeed be very unfortunate.

Perhaps over the next few years we will learn how to integrate the best of electronic search capabilities and electronic storage media with traditional printed media so that a balance is reached.  This balance should provide quick access to the current knowledge base while keeping ready access to historical perspectives and guided learning opportunities.

Are you ready to envision a world without printed books?   Do you think that day will come sometime soon and if so when?  Are you expecting Santa to bring you an electronic book-reader this Christmas?  I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this topic or others.  You can contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.