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It is a truism that paper is a much nicer reading medium than the computer screen. This is not only because paper is usually more portable, and the resolution is far better. It also happens that the computer screen glares a lot; the eyes are directly bombarded with countless photons by a backlight or a cathode ray tube. That is why in rather low lighting conditions typical of, in my opinion, comfortable interior spaces, black or dark backgrounds in material on the screen tend to be more comfortable in use for extended periods of time. In high lighting conditions, such as direct sunlight, a light background could be more comfortable, and even necessary.

Actually, not all paper is that great for reading either: it is precisely the “low-quality” paper used for newspapers and most books that is the best. Fancy paper used for fancy magazines and so on, while it does not come with a backlight, is quite reflective as well. It is the scattering matte surface of the low quality paper that makes it nice for reading. Of course, such paper is not so good for colourfull photographic illustrations, as are computer screens and reflective paper. Often, however, the matte surface would be more desirable.

There's another annoying photon-bombarding medium often used for viewing material that would be better viewed on a matte surface: the projector (slide, transparency, vga – it doesn't matter). A lot of light and energy is used to “paint” an image on a typically reflective surface, and this light shines back into the eyes of the viewer. I don't like viewing presentations from such a device; it is very tiresome, almost like staring at a flourescent lamp. The good old blackboard is a much better medium for most uses, and writing it all down there and then helps keeping the pace too.

I also don't like whiteboards at all; they're also made of very reflective material, unlike the matte blackboard, and so all the lights in the room shine back from it, which is quite annoying. Whiteboards offer nothing over blackboards, because even if you wanted to, you can hardly draw anything with the markers that would benefit from the fancier surface. On the contrary: the chalk is quite a bit more versatile.

Great things are expected from electronic paper, and certainly it should be an improvement over current computer display technologies, and maybe even projectors as well, for many uses. To my knowledge, all the prototypes are embedded in plastic, however. This means a reflective surface, and therefore electronic paper will be comparable to whiteboards and at best shiny magazine paper, but unfortunately it will be nowhere near the matte kinds of paper used for newspapers and most books, or blackboards. Such (near-) matte electronic paper is what is needed for electronic devices to ever come even close to the comfort of books and blackboards. Once again, it is the good old stuff that is the best, so far, for great many uses.