The Sony Librie, the primary e-reader to make use of a contemporary electronic-paper display screen, got here out in 2004. Previous as that’s in tech years, the essential thought of a handheld gadget that may retailer massive quantities of textual content stretches a minimum of eight many years farther again in historical past. Witness the Fiske Studying Machine, an invention first profiled in a 1922 problem 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 abnormal typewritten copy, when photographically diminished to one-hundredth of the house initially occupied, might be learn with fairly the power that the impression of standard printing sort 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. Based on the patents filed by inventor Bradley Allen Fiske (eleven in all, between 1920 and 1935), the textual content of any e-book might be photo-engraved onto a copper block, diminished 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, might be operated in obstructing the view of the unused eye.” (Winters provides that “using 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 trade,” writes Engadget’s J. Rigg. “Due to his ingenuity, books and magazines might be produced for a fraction of their present value. The price of supplies, presses, transport and the burden of storage may be slashed. He imagined magazines might be distributed by put up for subsequent to nothing, and most powerfully, that publishing in his format would permit everybody entry to instructional materials and leisure irrespective of their stage of earnings.” Contemplating how the connection between readers and studying materials finally 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 flawed facet 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 ft 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 way in which Fiske had imagined.” Nor, certainly, may he have imagined the shape the digital, electronic-paper-screened, and slim but vastly capacious kind that the e-reader must take earlier than discovering success within the market — but someway with out fairly displacing the paper e-book as even he knew it.
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Primarily based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embody the Substack publication Books on Cities, the e-book The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll via Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.