The Sony Librie, the primary e-reader to make use of a contemporary electronic-paper display screen, got here out in 2004. Outdated as that’s in tech years, the fundamental thought of a handheld gadget that may retailer massive quantities of textual content stretches at the least eight a long time farther again in historical past. Witness the Fiske Studying Machine, an invention first profiled in a 1922 concern of Scientific American. “The instrument, consisting of a tiny lens and a small curler for working this eyepiece up and down a vertical column of reading-matter, is a way by which unusual typewritten copy, when photographically lowered to one-hundredth of the area initially occupied, will be learn with fairly the ability that the impression of standard printing kind is now revealed to the unaided eye,” writes creator S. R. Winters.
Making books appropriate with the Fiske Studying Machine concerned not digitization, after all, however miniaturization. In accordance with the patents filed by inventor Bradley Allen Fiske (eleven in all, between 1920 and 1935), the textual content of any ebook may very well be photo-engraved onto a copper block, lowered ten occasions within the course of, after which printed onto strips of paper to be used within the machine, which might make them readable once more via a magnifying lens. A single magnifying lens, that’s: “A blinder, hooked up to the machine, will be operated in obstructing the view of the unused eye.” (Winters provides that “the usage of each eyes will likely contain the development of a unit of the studying machine extra elaborate than the current design.”)
“Fiske believed he had single-handedly revolutionized the publishing business,” writes Engadget’s J. Rigg. “Because of his ingenuity, books and magazines may very well be produced for a fraction of their present worth. The price of supplies, presses, delivery and the burden of storage is also slashed. He imagined magazines may very well be distributed by publish for subsequent to nothing, and most powerfully, that publishing in his format would permit everybody entry to academic materials and leisure irrespective of their degree of revenue.” Contemplating how the connection between readers and studying materials in the end developed, thanks to not copper blocks and magnifiers and tiny strips of paper however to computer systems and the web, evidently Fiske was a person forward of his time.
Alas, the Fiske Studying Machine itself was simply on the improper aspect of technological historical past. At the same time as Fiske was refining its design, “microfilm was starting to catch on,” and “whereas it initially discovered its toes within the enterprise world — for preserving document of cancelled checks, for instance — by 1935 Kodak had begun publishing The New York Occasions on 35mm microfilm.” Regardless of absolutely the prevalence that format quickly attained on this planet of archiving, “the urge for food for miniaturized novels and handheld readers by no means materialized in the best way Fiske had imagined.” Nor, absolutely, might he have imagined the shape the digital, electronic-paper-screened, and slim but massively capacious kind that the e-reader must take earlier than discovering success within the market — but by some means with out fairly displacing the paper ebook as even he knew it.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embrace the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the ebook The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll via Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video sequence The Metropolis in Cinema. Comply with him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.