Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

One Change Leads to Another?…November 2004

At the recent Society for Information Display Executive Committee meeting, Andy Lakatos, the Editor of the SID Journal, reported that the Journal is in the final stages of a successful transition to an all electronic publication. The Journal will no longer be published quarterly as a printed document but will now become a monthly publication available in electronic format to members and subscribers through the SID web site. At the end of each year there will, however, still be a supplemental CD sent to all subscribers. Electronic publishing will provide a number of significant benefits with more frequent issues and a greatly reduced time from paper submission to publication. There will also be links to provide immediate reference search capability. The Society will benefit by eliminating the costs of printing and mailing.

So, is this the perfect answer or could there be a few negatives? Personally, I will miss the visual reminder that a hard copy has provided me -- sitting in the pile of other recent but yet unread publications on my desk. I will also miss the ease of taking the Journal with me on a business trip -- to read along with all the other technical magazines that accumulated during those busy times in my office. I like the ease of reading whenever and wherever I happen to be. I also like the ability to retain only those articles that interest me. Lightening one’s briefcase by leaving behind a stack of just-read magazines at the end of a long airplane ride, for me, provides a tangible and satisfying measure of accomplishment.

Without the reminder of a hard copy, will anyone remember to look on-line each month to review the latest articles? With all the other demands placed on our time, when will we remember to do it? Will the published articles simply disappear into a black hole in information space? To insure that such an unfortunate possibility does not come to pass, the Society decided to publish a short summary of each month’s papers in Information Display magazine, the Society’s other major publication. This synopsis of the Journal will, in the future, provide the visual reminder that the full papers can be accessed online.

This seems like a very nice balance between the benefits provided by electronic publishing while still retaining an important convenience of the print-on-paper medium. But, as often happens, the end of this story is not really the end of the story. The very next item for the committee’s consideration was the “opportunity” to also put Information Display magazine on line. This discussion did not get very far at this particular meeting because there was immediate and serious concern expressed about how our advertisers would respond to such a major change. Nevertheless, this left me wondering if we are simply postponing the inevitable.

Personally, I like reading magazines. Sometimes I read them at perhaps peculiar times and in all kinds of locations. I take them with me when I travel. I read them while waiting for a meeting to start. I read them at night when I want to relax. I even take them along on vacations. They are my way to fill those other moments when not much else is happening that needs my attention. What would it take for me to be able to do this electronically?

Let’s consider a few items that I think will have to become available before the conversion to all electronic publishing will feel as convenient for me as the “old fashioned” paper publications.

I think the item of highest priority on my list would have to be a wireless connectivity -- wherever I go and without any extra costs or difficult procedures for access. Then I suppose along with that would come the need to have a display that is large enough, has enough resolution, and is readable in all kinds of environments. And yes, battery life should be adequate to handle at least eight hours of use without having to worry about where to find a power plug, as I often find myself doing while waiting for a delayed flight in an airport.

If these basic requirements could be satisfied then there could be some new and interesting opportunities for all-electronic publications. It should be possible to highlight and save (or send to a printer) only those articles, and/or paragraphs from articles, of special interest. It should be possible to instantly access references or advertisers’ sites for more specific information. It should likewise be possible to excerpt and forward specific bits of information to others. And readability should be convenient if the articles are organized so that browsing from page to page is trivially easy.

With these capabilities in place, I think I could begin to like the idea of magazines in electronic format. In fact, I may even begin to embrace the concept. But what about my current need for visual reminders? Which magazine should I access and how will I remember to do it? I suppose a monthly e-mail summarizing the contents could be one way to accomplish this. However, that doesn’t feel like quite enough of a reminder to me. Maybe in this case I’m the problem? Do I need to sign up for behavior modification therapy? Or are we going to end up missing an opportunity by eliminating the “push” benefits of the printed page? Perhaps we won’t know until we have the capabilities in place that I have described above.

I think the transition from print to all-electronic publications will begin in earnest when wireless connectivity becomes available at many more locations and no longer requires special subscriptions and difficult procedures for access. It seems to me that that should occur in the next five to seven years. After that, the transition to electronic magazine publishing will likely occur quite rapidly.

Once this transition begins in earnest, there could be other interesting consequences. One side effect could be on the future development of electronic books. There could also be an impact on many of the current efforts to create special displays for such products. There would be little benefit for a slightly different format or for a special display if the laptop computer can evolve to become the preferred mode for reading and interacting with electronic publications. The convenience of wireless access and instant download may become the only method we need or want. Or perhaps there will be a new form of information appliance that will evolve that meets these needs even better than they can be met by simple and obvious extensions of the laptop computers as we know them today.

This transition could turn out to be the most important and exciting development in the evolution of how we access and manage the information that we need in order to stay current in our chosen areas of technical expertise. I welcome your comments and thoughts on how you think all this will develop. You may contact me through this web site, directly by e-mail at Email, by telephone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727.