Digital Newpapers
 
 
For several years I had not really depended on the Los Angeles Times for my news, even though I continued to pick it up from the front walk every day just as everyone in my family has done ever since 1908. But by 2008 I was only glancing at the headlines, scanning the comics, and working some of the crossword puzzles. This had been all I took time to do since television and the internet came onto the scene. However, by 2008 the paper was so thin that after breezing through it, it only took a few minutes more to make it useful in its second life by stripping out the useless, odd-sized glossy pages. Then I folded what was left into a neat stack for use in soaking up spilled oil or catching splatters of paint from household chores, and, of course, the time-honored ritual of wrapping up the garbage so it wouldn't drip upon being carried out.
 
Now it is the year 2015. I still take the Times, but now I not only read it, but ever since it has been integrated with TV and the internet, the Times has become my main link with the world. The magic that makes this possible has three parts: digital pens, digital dot paper and, of course, the internet. Enclosed, in mockup form*, is a digital pen (or stylus, when the pen is retracted) and two pages of real digital paper over-printed with images from the Times. The third part is the internet that carries out the instructions sent by the pen. With these elements newspapers rather than keyboards enable readers to take advantage of the internet as an extension of what is printed in them.
 
The scenario is this. Readers peruse the paper just as in the olden days, but when they see something they want to interact with, they touch the text (or image) with a digital stylus to activate a command. The result could be a number of responses through a handy smart phone or other screen. Here are a few:
    - they hear a definition of a word or phrase in a language of their choice,
    - they see an image or movie clip on their laptop, or even home theater,
    - they are shown additional wiki-like displays related to the text,
    - they touch the word "buy" in an ad, then sign their name with the digital pen and instantly purchase the item or service offered expressly to them for a limited time only -- say only during that login.
 
Note:  Anyone connected with the currently troubled newspaper business must be salivating over this last item, so I don't think I need to elaborate upon the new revenue opportunities such an innovation would bring about. Suffice it to point out that Google currently gets billions from internet advertising. Digital newspapers should be able to get a lot of it back.
 
But why wait until the year 2015? All of the components for the above innovation are currently available as consumer items. Wired magazine introduced Anoto's digital pen and dot paper in 2001, which is light years ago in technology. Of course, the enabling communications technology, blue-tooth, is commonly used to interconnect devices of all kinds, and Internet access is becoming ubiquitous. And you don't even have to buy new presses. They can be used, as is, to create the required digital paper and also to continue to print newspapers.
 
So what are you waiting for?
 
Please "demo" the system for yourself with the enclosed* mockup of a digital pen and stylus, and a digital newspaper. (Sorry about the lined paper, but, hey, it is only a mockup.) Read the newspaper with the pen in your hand and touch an unfamiliar name, say of the reporter in the "Roots" article and imagine hearing more about him or seeing his picture and bio. Touch the word "Birmingham" in same article and imagine the system asking if you want to see a Google Earth image of Birmingham and in what country. Touch the words "smugglers gulch," which is called "infamous" in the "smuggling haven" article to simulate linking it with Wikipedia to see what made it infamous.  Simulate taking advantage of the Energizer battery offer or the Oust disinfectant offer on the ad page by linking to order blanks after touching the coupon.
 
When you finish the paper, it can go into the stack to begin a second life just as before and the pen can go into your shirt pocket. After all it is a real pen too.
 
*Now only available upon request to the author via email at robertfreeman@mac.com.
 
 
“Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism; when a great one goes, history itself is denied a devoted witness.”
 
    --  Richard Kluger
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Digital Newspapers