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Thanks. I tried to go all digital a few years ago -- getting rid of nearly all my 1000+ paper books -- only to conclude I'm generally better off reading paper and nearly always better off reading important things on paper. This because paper has a higher barrier to entry (I think of it as "slow information"), because the cookie-cutter sizing of tablets and ereaders screws up sizing (of code in particular) and, frankly, because I get tired of looking at screens and struggle to resist context switching. That said, I like to have an electronic copy of everything for easy referencing and corpus work.

The subject of paper vs digital is of particular interest to me because I volunteer with www.savenypl.org, a group created to thwart the NYPL's efforts to gut the stacks at the 42nd Street Library and sell of two branch libraries (we succeeded, mostly). I am not as skeptical of keeping books off site as some of our members, but I think many libraries are misguided in their rush to remove paper books, for reasons of both reading efficacy and surveillance. I know many technologists share these concerns. Richard Stallman was kind enough to help a few years ago (https://stallman.org/save-the-nypl.html). Now it would be good to have additional technical people weigh in on the issue of digitization / paper book removal.

May I add you to the list of such people and / or keep you posted?




There's no question that electronic media as readable as paper can be done -- and, in a way, it is not too surprising that it hasn't (I don't think most technologists care). I am quite curious why the super-high-res screens don't work better for this (worth looking at).

The first commercial laser printers were 300dpi and the result was quite readable (the very first one that was invented -- by Gary Starkweather at Parc -- was 500pdi). I asked John Warnock why 300dpi worked better than I thought it would, and he said that it was the "real black" and excellent accuracy.

We have both at least that on "retina" type displays, so I'm guessing that there is still some refresh flicker that is causing some of the problems (if so, then that would revise long ago experiments that indicated most people would not be bothered by anything above 120p).

(But I think I feel that my eyes are doing extra saccades on laptop displays, and that the contrast ratios and res are not good enough with eInk.)

The experiments I did at Parc, cross connected with Tom Cornsweet's work at SRI, showed curves that swung both with contrast ratio, and "distance from real black".

Another thing that will help (for "Aldus" type personal books) will be the next round of flexible displays that will feel a little more conformal.

(Also, how could the Ipad and Eink tablet folks failed to have put the batteries on one side of a symmetric device so it could be held with the center of mass in the offhand?) This is really shockingly awful elementary human factors design. The next round of these will hopefully have a lower density/mass in any case.


I think a glossy screen in a well lit room will never achieve an acceptable black. I am writing this on a macbok in a room with bay windows and I can see my reflection on the white parts of the screen.


Screens used to have a "quarter wave plate" that would knock down a lot of the reflections -- I'm not sure why the glossy screens came back (more light out? cheaper?).

I have an older MacAir that does not have a highly reflective screen. The black is pretty good.

My feeling is that my eyes are jumping a bit with it, and for this (or some other) reason, I also have a distinct "I'm not remembering as well" underlying feeling. (This could be an illusion, or it could be harking back to long ago when I was trying to learn how to remember more of what I was reading ...)


Glossy displays definitely appear to have more vibrant color in the average big-box store with very diffuse lighting. They are also somewhat better if you can sit so that all of the specular reflections from bright lights will be directed away from you.




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