The Electronic Future of Paper

The Electronic Future of Paper

Paper isn’t dying, but it is changing.   From trees to circuit boards, what’s going to happen to our flexible friend?

I think paper will be around for a long, long time.  But we’ll increasingly see its strengths –  thin, light and flexible – transferred to new domains and materials.  Think of these new incarnations as Paper 2.0

While Apple has just announced its iPad Pro, in the future they might be moving from bigger devices to bendy ones.  In 2014 the company took out a patent for a flexible display.

I can see a future where the company releases a iPhone or iPad that allows people to wrap and roll it up on the way to work. Maybe we’d stop saying thing like ‘I have to answer my phone’ and say ‘I need to unroll my phone’ instead.  What would it be called though?  The iFlex?  iRoll?

In terms of mass-market affordability, maybe the next big tech jump (and price drop) for flexible paper will come out of South Korea.  Earlier this year LG announced a prototype super-light ‘wallpaper TV’ that hangs on a wall using magnets.

It might be a while before this type of product comes to market, but once it does we can expect to see its cost lowered and technology improved quickly in the years afterwards.

What could you do with a very high-res flexible screen?  This scene from the Tom Hanks film Cloud Atlas, shows how an entire flat can be decorated in moments and even display a live-window view of the outside world.

I think things get really interesting when we imagine a future where our digital paper is as flexible and abundant as cotton fabric – and is paired with super-efficient batteries.  Now you’ve got scope for flights of fashion.


Imagine an elegant dress – one whose design is eternally stylish.   How do you make it fashionable?  Change how it looks.  You update it with different colours and patterns whenever you wish; one look for dinner in the evening, another for clubbing into the early morning.

When you’re back in the office, perhaps nursing a sore head, you could even be using a lever arch folder full of digital paper.   As great as phones and computers are for storing information, it can still be tricky to sort and find what we need.  I think we all have to admit that flicking through pages can sometimes be quicker – imagine a folder that allows you to display whatever documents you want from your intranet, but with the ‘old-world’ feel of regular files.

Finally, what about a future where quantitative easing – pumping money into the economy – isn’t done by printing more money, but simply by updating the value of digital banknotes?

Nah – by that point we’ll just be paying for things telepathically.


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