Having found a liking for the Kindle reader on my Android smartphone, and with BDRA’s interest in e-books, it was quite a surprise this morning to have a washing machine repair man present me with what was basically, thanks to a turn-of-the-century suitcase of kit, a scroll.
My first thought was some kind of reverse-medieval helpdesk comedy, but then it occurred to me that actually, we use the scroll as a presentation format every day. We just don’t notice, because we call them “pages”. Web pages. Except, they are not pages of a website really, because most people don’t find them by going to the “home page” and navigating hyperlinks, as was originally envisaged. No, they go straight to one “page” from Google. So really, each “web page” is a discrete document, and since these documents are usually longer than a screen-full, one has to “scroll” through them. So, they are scrolls.
Why, then, did the medieval scroll give way to the book? Well, according to Wikipedia, for “compactness, sturdiness, ease of reference (a codex is random access, as opposed to a scroll, which is sequential access), and especially economy; unlike the scroll, both recto and verso could be used for writing”, None of these matter in electronic format, especially “random access”, a problem solved by the browser’s “search” facility. In fact, “search”, not hyperlinking, is the key technology that has allowed what would have been books to become multiple small documents. In this brave new world, hiding part of the document on separate pages becomes a disadvantage. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you… The Scroll.
“Old” technology is often disparaged simply because it “wasn’t invented here” (i.e. by the current generation), but “old” technology may well be cheaper (analogue vs digital radio), easier to use (clockwork vs digital egg timer) and more appropriate (birthday card vs text message). When designing any new system – I’m thinking of learning design in particular – it’s important to use the most appropriate technologies from all those available, and not be seduced by newness.