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Newspapers, too, may be little changed in appearance but greatly altered in function by the advent of electronic paper. Robert Steinbugler, an IBM designer, won a 1999 Industrial Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America for a mock-up of the newspaper of tomorrow. It looked like a thin version of The New York Times, except that the loose pages were bound to an aluminum spine mounted on a hard pad, slightly larger than the e-pages, which contained command buttons. In Steinbugler’s design, the spine and pad held a battery, a data port and enough memory to store hundreds of newspapers. Future readers could flip through the sheets, which had the serendipitously jumbled-together articles of real newspapers, but switch between sections by clicking buttons; with a jab from the thumb, the news would vanish from the page and be replaced by the sports. The effort wasn’t merely conceptual; IBM is gearing up its own e-paper drive, using another variant of organic circuitry. “E-paper is the key,” Steinbugler says. “I always say that the last person to enjoy reading on a stiff tablet was Moses.”

Moses may be an appropriate reference, Steinbugler suggests, because the cultural consequences of e-paper could “be Biblical in proportion.” If every blank book is a potential library, will there continue to be a need for libraries? What will it mean to our experience of a novel if every other novel we have ever read can be called up from within its pages? If texts are instantly available on the Net, will authors and publishers continue to be able to make a living?

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