Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reading Glasses: An Alternative E-Book Format

I’ve seen lots of proposals for ebooks, some better than others, and each having this or that problem. I started thinking about them recently when I was reading a book on my laptop. It was all-text, html, and it wasn’t long before I got a stiff neck, something that usually happens when I read. (It’s the legacy of some long-ago accidents.) I might have printed out the pages, but I was low on paper.

So I changed position quite a bit, moved the laptop here and there. I couldn’t get nearly as comfortable as I might have with a conventional book, but I plodded through 100 pages or so okay. As I read I kept visualizing myself reading the book at hand with various styles of readers I’ve seen here and there. Then the thought came to me: “reading glasses.”

No, not vision correction, but eyeglasses whose lenses were replaced with tiny screens onto which book pages could be projected. Call the gadget “reading glasses,” of course.

It’s an idea that Hugo Gernsback might have come up with back in the 1920s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if old Hugo didn’t propose it at some point in one of his early 20-century radio or science magazines. I know he designed glasses with miniature television screens.

This has been worked on, and I can see it as a real product: reading glasses into which you plug a book stored in some small media. Or maybe book text would be downloadable to the reading glasses.

What about preloaded, disposable reading glasses? Or not disposable: you read the book then sell the used “book” on eBay. Or trade it to a friend for another book. If you limit the capacity of a pair of reading glasses to that of a large book, bookstores and libraries might sell/loan a book out to anyone with reading glasses. There would be a small fee, and publishers and authors would share in the proceeds equally, after the dispensing operation takes its cut. The 50-50 publisher/author split is fair, since the publisher isn’t going to any extra effort here.


lartronics said...

Hugo would have been right at home with the idea. His earlier version was to have the whole book, as well as today's newspaper, on a small spool of film.

Michael A. Banks said...

And like many of his ideas, it was possible at the time but had to wait for people to catch up with it.