Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

Shifting the Burden…February 2007

What good are bits when I need atoms!   It has not been all that many years since certain leading proponents of “computers for everything” pronounced that the world was in the midst of a fundamental shift from working with atoms (in the form of paper) to bits (in the form of computer data).  Those were the heady days of the paperless office about-to-arrive.   Of course, now we know that it didn’t exactly turn out that way.   Today we create more paper than ever. 

However, who ends up having to create all this paper and what this does to enhance or mess up our day is what is beginning to bother me more and more -- mainly because I am beginning to realize that others may be taking advantage of me.  Furthermore, the problem is not only that it’s a minor inconvenience of having to print out a few pages.  Let me share a real-life example with you. 

Winter NightA few days ago, I received a shiny little computer disk by FedEx that was meant to provide me with information so that I could participate in the selection of a “best product” award in several categories.  In past years, this information came by way of a stack of papers that contained the nomination forms with all the back-up material attached.  The process of getting to an answer was a relatively easy one.

To do my evaluations and make my recommendations, I would start by sorting through the stack and picking out the ones that seemed most interesting.  Then I would glance at the back-up information and continue to rearrange the stack by doing a comparative ranking – this one is better than the one above it, and so forth.  Sometimes I would conclude the process by spreading all the nominations out on a large table to do the final comparative rankings.  It would not be long before the final order emerged with the satisfaction that I had examined all the important information provided and answered all the pertinent questions. 

Now, let’s compare what I have just described to the shiny computer disk approach.  I put the disk in the usual computer slot and opened it.  And what did I find in front of me on the screen?  There were approximately fifty FOLDERS – not just files, folders.  Each folder, with its short and cryptic title, contained not only the nomination form, but also all the back-up information in several more files and photo images. 

So how could I easily go through all this information to create order out of chaos?  Should I try to read the documents one-by-one?  If so, how would I remember what I read about product eighteen, or was it product twenty-seven?  And how did product twenty-two compare to product five?   I was already getting confused by the time I was reading about product number four.   How could I possibly retain all my impressions to achieve a decent ranking by the time I finished reading?  And not only that, I also didn’t have the time or patience to try to absorb so much information one page at a time.  My preference was to begin the sorting process immediately.  The more I tried to make some sense of all this, the more frustrated I became.

So, why did I end up with a computer disk instead of information in the printed paper form that I could use?  Well, of course -- it was easier for the sender.  The person on the other end did not have to worry about making multiple copies of all the information.  They did not have to put together packages to mail.  They just created the disk and then could burn as many copies as they wished and the burden would be on me to figure out how to make the information unraveling useful.   Unfortunately, the end result in this case was that all I could do was to print out the cover pages of each nomination, and then go back and forth within all the folders and files and try to do my best to arrive at an ordered selection.  By only having one page at a time available to me, I’m not at all sure that I didn’t miss something important. 

Isn’t there something that we in the display community could do to satisfy both the needs of those who don’t want to take (or don’t have) the time to put information into a conveniently usable form, as well as those who wish to have access to more than one page at a time?  One possibility would be to have a display that is much larger than the ones we commonly use today with our computers – let’s say desktop size.  Then we could electronically spread all these files and folders onto our desktops and begin to move them around like pieces of paper on a large table.  One mandatory requirement would have to be an abstract or a small image that would tell us key information about each file so that we could instantly recognize it and be able to use this concise information as a sorting tool.  The back-up information would be quickly accessible by clicking on the information abstract – like we do now on a typical desktop icon.  I think a display of about 50 or 60-inch diagonal would suit us just fine for this task. 

However, the resolution would have to be quite good.  In order to display the information at the same lines per inch as on our current computer monitors, we would need at least 3,000 lines and maybe as many as 5,000.  Don’t you think that a display of that size and resolution would start to get really interesting for sorting the larger amounts of information?  Making such a large high-resolution display at an affordable cost could keep us display engineers busy for at least a few more years. 

In general, I have not been able to find all that many interesting applications for high-resolution displays.  I have never been much of a believer in higher resolution just for its own sake.  But here is an application that would be quite useful and cannot be adequately implemented unless we do have the higher resolution available.  Will we make such a display or will we come up with some other way to sort and order large amounts of information? 

Until we do, I have decided that I am going to decline any future offers sent to me on shiny little disks.  

If you have some good alternate suggestions on how to deal with this information acquisition and sorting problem, please send me your thoughts.  I’ll willingly give them a try – especially since we don’t yet have that 60-inch high-resolution desktop available to us.   You may contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at, by phone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727.