The Future of Paper

So small you'll never see it and will always be able to have it with you.


There's a lot of talk about paper becoming obsolete. Newspapers dying, magazines switching to digital rather than print editions, e-readers replacing books. And the libraries! Whatever will become of them? Large buildings filled with rooms and rooms of low-density information storage shouldn't exist in this day and age if we can compress all of the books into tiny electronic files and store them in a computer closet, right?

Photo of printed chip by Kathleen DooherOnly If You Have No Imagination

Right now we print books on paper with words in ink, but the next steps are already being taken to print computers on paper--with conductible inks, we can print circuit boards onto paperstock and turn an ordinary sentence into a simple computer program.

Just on one page. And when you stack a bunch of paper computers together, and bind them, you have a book computer.

Predicting the failure of libraries has been popular for decades, including Richard Feynman's talk in 1959 about the miniaturization of every book in the world. In his talk--There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom--Feynman proposes using an electron microscope to reduce the letters of the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica 25,000 times, so that all 24 volumes of the encyclopedia would fit onto the head of a pin!

He then says that we can take the 9 million volumes from the Library of Congress, the 5 million volumes of the British Museum Library, and the 5 million volumes in the National Library in France and print them down in the same way, and fit them onto 1 million pinheads. A printed sheet of all the books in the world, then, would be about three square yards, or about 35 regular-sized printed pages.

Imagine! He Tells Us

Imagine the entire library at Caltech, 120,000 volumes stored in a giant building, in low-density format. Feynman says that the entire library can be reduced to the size of one library card. The library would not be written in code, but simply in a smaller reproduction of the original words and pictures, without a loss of resolution.

Sure it would be pretty cool to have a library card that contains your whole library in your pocket, but how would you be able to read it? You'd need an electron microscope to look at something that small. Fortunately for you, ASPEX corporation has a very special offer. They will do free electron microscope scans of any sample you send in, and either send you the results or post the scans online for you to see.

Self Folding Books--Pretty!

What use would an entire building of book computers be to a library patron? Just think of books programmed to fold themselves into patterns when you open the book's covers--an entire building of self-folding origami, hundreds of thousands of plain rectangular blocks suddenly shifting into flocks of cranes and fields of flowers.

Read Related

For more on these topics in conventional book form, pick up Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post: A Great Newspaper Fights for Its Life, Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, or A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digitial Revolution.


Author Bio:

"Josh Pearce" brings a cheerful, exotic, and exuberant form of chaos to a household of two young kids, brother and sister, one rainy day while their mother leaves them unattended.


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