Sunday, March 23, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: Is Dematerialization on your Horizon?

BoSacks Speaks Out: Is Dematerialization on your Horizon?

The best part of this article is the term, phrase and concept of "Dematerialization". It truly conjures science fiction and, I think, soon to be real science fact. As the article points out we are not there yet, a fact that my friend Samir Husni, Mr. Magazine, takes great pride and joy in reminding me about. But that joy will be a short lived moment of glee.

This article states:
. . . dematerialization is also how the French refer to the use of technology to do away with paperwork in their everyday lives. That's an idea that might equally belong to the realms of science fiction -- or "littérature d'anticipation," as it's sometimes called here.

For me, I truly don't understand the naysayers. In the last ten years we have digitalized the entire publishing process. I mean everything from key stroke capture through web transmission to digital variable plateless printing presses anywhere on the globe. Is it so hard to think of the next logical step, which is the advent of electronic paper? Look around, it is already here, and commercialized. The only thing left to do next is to improve on the already existent technologies. Do you think epaper is just going to go away? Is there a single reader out there that thinks that epaper technology is at its apex and will not improve ten fold? It will. It is no longer an if or when question, but rather how soon. And the answer to that is in less than five years we will have flexible color-rich epaper. That would be epaper that will be able to reproduce millions of colors, connected to the WiFi environment, and inexpensive.

Does this mean that print will go away? No. The printing press and the printed magazine will still have a long and honorable history. But it does mean a change of business plans and information distribution pathways. And among other things it gives the modern publisher the accountability we have been craving but unable to attain.

If you have a better way of getting a one to one relationship with the reader, I would like to hear about it, and so would the advertising community. It's time to wake up and listen to the buzz as the electrons fly by.

I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you service us.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard -Star Ship Enterprise

Still Seeking a Truly Digital Life
Analysis: The French call it 'dematerialization' but the search for a paperless existence continues to elude even technophiles.
BY Peter Sayer, IDG News Service,143745-c,futuretechnology/article.html

Dematerialization: The word has always had connotations of science fiction for me.

When I hear it, I picture the transporter room in the television series Star Trek or the Invisible Man in the novel by H.G. Wells. (Well, I try to picture him ...)

But dematerialization is also how the French refer to the use of technology to do away with paperwork in their everyday lives. That's an idea that might equally belong to the realms of science fiction -- or "littérature d'anticipation," as it's sometimes called here.

Little Progress Toward Paperless
Whatever you call it, the computers I've had on my desk over the past 20 years have done little to deliver on the promise of turning my workspace into a paperless office, and despite the enthusiastic efforts of different sectors of French society, it looks as though dematerialization has had little effect here, either.

In April 2001, the Ministry of Economics and Finance was keen to dematerialize tax forms. Yet the large number of Parisians that I met frantically stuffing their tax returns into the tax office mailbox as the midnight deadline approached suggests that the ministry might have been more popular if it had done away with taxes instead. Suspicion of new technology -- and the risk of an audit -- meant that adoption was slow: Just 17,000 of France's 19 million tax-paying households filed online in 2001, and 100,000 filed the following year. As one of the late-night filers, a graphic designer, told me back then: "If my return goes missing, there's no way to keep a copy for myself to prove what I sent."

That pack-rat instinct is what prompted French company Xamance to launch the Xambox, a gadget it exhibited at the Cebit trade show this month. A cunning combination of hardware and software, the Xambox appealed to me with its promise that I would be able to keep track of paperwork, yet never have to file anything again.

While I had high hopes that the Xambox would beam documents up to some dematerialized filing system in the sky, the reality is more mundane. As documents are scanned, they drop into a numbered box that you then stick in a cupboard. Not so much dematerialized as out of sight, out of mind.

With a combination of optical character recognition and a huge database, the Xambox should be able to show you a scan of whatever document you search for, its makers say. By occasionally dropping a bar-coded divider into the stream of documents to scan, you give the database enough clues to tell you exactly where to find the original document too, should you need it: Box number five, third document after the seventh divider, it might tell you, as you look for the papers to justify last year's tax filing.

Books of the Future?
This week Paris played host to another demonstration of dematerialization, at the intersection of science fiction and finance.

The Salon du Livre, an annual book fair, included for the first time an exhibit entitled "Tomorrow's reading." Amazon's Kindle was there, in a glass case, as was a prototype bi-stable LCD (liquid crystal display), a form of e-paper developed by French manufacturer Nemoptic.

The manufacturers of the iRex and Cybook e-readers also had stands. Their devices were technologically impressive: lightweight, with crisp, readable displays and interfaces that were, for the most part, well thought out.

Cybook had cheekily loaded its demo models with a novella entitled "I, Robot" by online rights campaigner, academic -- and author -- Cory Doctorow. I say cheekily, because although Doctorow distributes much of his work under a Creative Commons license, he has no faith in e-readers, as he explained in a column in the March issue of Locus , a magazine for science fiction fans.

Apart from their presence on the demonstration devices at the show, e-book publishers kept a low profile.

Even daily newspaper Les Echos had real newspapers, piles and piles of them, on its stand, but couldn't show me samples of the e-reader or the e-paper edition that it launched at the show last year.

Publishers at the show said that e-books will cost about the same as paper books. That wouldn't be so bad (the authors and publishers still have to eat), but on top of that they want me to pay for the "e-printing," and the e-readers exhibited cost from €330 (US$520) to €650.

With prices like that, I think I can afford to put off dematerializing my reading habits until tomorrow.

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