Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


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The Gray Scale of Obsolescence…September 2003

I don’t like, or find credible, the predictions made by most futurists. They seem to be driven more by the need for publicity than by a careful analysis of what is really likely to happen. This typically means that the more audacious the prognostication the more likely it is to be picked up by the popular press. One recent example is the prediction that we are on the threshold of immortality. Of course, I can’t prove to you that it can’t happen and I may even wish that it could. But most changes are not nearly that dramatic. In fact, other than cataclysmic events of nature or self-destructive behaviors such as wars, change often creeps up on us so gradually that we don’t even notice it happening. Even dramatic improvements in technology become common place in a few short years. Consider, for example, the catalytic converter and the collision-activated air bags for cars. It still amazes me that someone could come up with the idea of inflating a protective balloon while the collision is happening and make it sufficiently foolproof to be used in a consumer product.

Haystack Rock

The display industry is currently in the midst of such a dramatic change, but one that we have similarly come to accept as seemingly obvious. Never before has our progress paralleled that of the semiconductor industry. Now we are doing just that – but on an even grander scale! The semiconductor industry did it with wafers of ever-larger diameters and components with ever-smaller dimensions. Now, the display industry is progressing from generation 5, to 6, to 7 in the quest for ever-larger flat panels. This path is revolutionary and we could not have imagined it just a few years ago. But already we have come to accept it as inevitable and "obvious."

Sometimes change occurs so gradually that if we are not regular participants, the "sudden" realization of what has happened can catch us by surprise. For me, one such recent illustrative example is the changeover from the use of 35mm slides and overhead transparencies to all-electronic media for any and all presentations. Most of you will remember the first attempts at using laptop computers and floppy disks a few years ago at technical conferences. These attempts often led to embarrassing pauses while everyone scrambled to locate the hardware and/or software incompatibilities between the presenter’s computer and the projector. Sometimes these efforts were unsuccessful and the speaker had to resort to overhead transparencies and/or slides for a backup. Only the bravest – or perhaps most foolhardy – speakers dared to come with only their floppy disks in hand. But in just a few years, most of the problems have been resolved. And recently – as I came to learn – something else has happened. There is now the expectation that every presentation will be made using a laptop computer and an electronic projector.

For a two-day course that I teach on the fundamentals of displays I have, up to now, been using a combination of overhead transparencies, 35 mm slides, and video clips. While many of the overhead transparencies are already resident on my computer, I had chosen the absolutely safe route for my two days of presentations, i.e. no unexpected computer crashes. I also like the convenience of being able to face my audience while I point out information. This comes naturally when using an overhead projector but does not work nearly as well with a computer/projector combination. And trying to use the mouse, while staring at a laptop screen, also does not provide the dynamics of being able to gesture-while-talking. Since course attendees also receive a book with copies of all the slides, there should not be a problem in any case, right? One year ago, it was no problem. Six months ago, it was also not a problem. Today – it’s a problem! No more overheads, and no more 35mm slides! The telling comment: "We’ve got to get Aris into the 21st century." The attendees gave me excellent ratings for the course, but they no longer found these visuals suitable.

The changeover occurred, and even as an active participant, I missed it. I too had already made the transition to computer based visuals for my shorter talks and those for larger audiences. But the totality of it all caught me by surprise. When did we all -- suddenly? -- decide that only a laptop computer and electronic projector are acceptable? Or did this happen so gradually and with such subtlety that we didn’t even think about it? When did we transition from the "brave and the few " to the all encompassing "this is the only way we do it"? And by the way, what has happened to the sales of overhead and 35mm projectors? Are they gone forever? Their few remaining advantages were apparently not sufficient to keep these products viable. We were willing to modify our behaviors for the new and more glamorous technologies.

In spite of the dramatic predictions of the futurists, most of us don’t handle change all that well. We especially don’t do well with disruptive changes. The really interesting stuff seems to creep up on us subtly and gradually. We may be willing to try something a little new here or a little new there, and if it works for us, pretty soon we’re in the middle of quite a different world. Word processors, cell phones, the Internet, laptop computers – almost without effort we just slipped right into them.

Electronic images, large screen television – we’re well on our way with these as well. What’s next? Perhaps, computer generated personalities. To share your ideas on the future and the gray-scale of change, you may contact me through this web site, directly by e-mail at, by phone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727. 425-898-1727.