Adapt or Vanish


by Aris Silzars

One Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I stopped into a Seattle coffee shop renowned for the quality of its donuts and the selection of its specialty coffees. This specialty donut/coffee shop is located in one of the older residential neighborhoods close to the core downtown area. As such, it attracts the younger professionals who rent or own the apartments and condominiums that are the norm for this part of the city, and for whom a Saturday morning walk to get a cup of coffee and donut is a wonderful way to start the weekend. The atmosphere in this shop has the feel of an old bookstore that is especially conducive to sitting for a while and just enjoying the pleasant smells of the steaming coffees and fresh pastries. On a typically overcast Seattle day, this all creates a mood suitable for quiet and restful contemplation.

Thus, for me this provided the rare opportunity to just sit – and do nothing. As I sat there in my best contemplative mood, something began to intrude on my nothingness. I began to notice that while all the other tables were also occupied by one or more persons similarly enjoying their coffees and donuts, in front of virtually every one of these people was an open laptop computer. On a Saturday morning in a quiet coffee shop? Why? What were they doing? What where they looking at? Wouldn't it make more sense to see these people reading a newspaper? Some seemed to be just staring at their computer screens while others were busily typing something or other. There was not a newspaper to be seen anywhere.

Are we in the midst of an information revolution that has already happened and we didn't even notice? And when it does hit full force, what will it take to adapt to this new environment? It seems to me that traditional newspapers are going to be in big trouble unless they adapt to what is going on. As I thought about it, I realized that even for me, the newspaper is no longer the way that I get my news. Every time I open my e-mail or search the Internet, I am presented with the latest headlines, and the additional details of what interests me can be accessed with one click of the mouse. By the end of the day, I have no need to watch the evening news or read the paper to see what is "new." I already know.

So why do I still read the paper – actually several – each day? I read for the editorial commentary, for the business news, and for the philosophical wisdom that masquerades as the comics. There is also occasional value in the various advertising supplements and Sunday magazines. The news is only of value if it provides some details that may be of special interest to me. And I'm finding that the free news that I now receive on my computer each day seems to be more complete and more interesting than much of what is in the newspaper.

Another change that has already taken place is that I no longer look at the classified ads – those have been replaced by eBay and by Craig's List. The real-estate section is still interesting, but for serious house hunters, the Internet has become the preferred method. About all that is left are the car-dealer ads.

Have the newspapers figured all this out yet? I don't think so. My sense is that they still think they are in the business of providing the "latest news." There seems to be plenty of concern about decreasing revenue and decreasing readership, but I don't see anyone articulating the need to adapt the core product to the way it is already being used. I want to continue to have my morning and mid-day papers. I do not want them to go out of business. But please emphasize those areas that I do not already get for free and faster every time I access my computer screen.

The same can be said for the evening news on television. Lately, I have been waiting until most of the news segments are over and then just tuning in to see the weather and sports. The weather is of interest to me because I like to be outdoors for my exercise, and the sports news is just there for entertainment value. I'm not much of a sports fan, but it's still interesting to see what latest silliness the professional players are up to. The rest of the "news" I already know, and I have no interest in hearing about the latest murders, fires, or fatal traffic accidents. The names and locations seem to change but the stories are remarkably repetitive.

This change in information-acquisition habits is, of course, great news for those of us in the display industry. What could be better than to have people using displays of all sizes each and every minute of the day? Each day (including Saturdays and Sundays), many of us wake up to immediately activate our laptop computers, then we stare at computer screens all day at work, we text-message as we travel from place to place, we look at our cell phones at least once every 5 minutes, and we come home to watch the big-screen TV and/or play video games all night long. Then we may do a final e-mail check before going to bed and perhaps end the day by watching the bedroom TV to relax before falling asleep. In this evolving world of electronic displays, will there be even a few minutes left for anything else? And soon, we will have flexible displays that are even more intimately and conveniently attachable to our bodies. This world of "conformable" and "wearable" electronics is only a few years away and will be the next big thing in displaying personalized information.

Are you ready for these additional enhancements? Whether you are or not, given this world of ubiquitous visual appliances, there are plenty of opportunities for further improvements and enhancements to the displays we already use. This is especially true for the portable displays that need to operate in outdoor environments and with battery power. The worldwide display community will continue to thrive in this environment of virtually unlimited opportunities for at least several more decades. And what happens after that is beyond my ability to predict. Perhaps by then we will have truly realistic 3-D and that will become the next major wave for display development. In the interim, the traditional media such as news-papers will have to learn to adapt or they will vanish. The laws of evolution are very unforgiving.

Aris Silzars is a Contributing Editor of Information Display magazine. He can be reached by e-mail at or by telephone at 425/898-9117.

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