Thursday January 28th, 2010

The Path from Edison to Jobs

Did Thomas Edison predict the Kindle and iPad?

“Nickel will absorb printer’s ink,” [Edison said.] “A sheet of nickel one twenty-thousandth of an inch thick is cheaper, tougher, and more flexible than an ordinary sheet of book-paper. A nickel book, two inches thick, would contain 40,000 pages. Such a book would weigh only a pound. I can make a pound of nickel sheets for a dollar and a quarter.”

There is virtually no evidence that Thomas Edison ever followed up on this idea. He probably thought it through and realized that it would be impractical and cause injury: Imagine flipping through a steel-covered book with leaves of nickel to page 14,237. Next, visualize the bloody mess now passing for the tip of your thumb or index finger. Then consider, as with the compact edition of the O.E.D., that you’ll require a high-power magnifying glass to read the print.

It’s not, however, all bad. A one-pound, two-inch thick all-metal book is well-nigh indestructible. Drop it from the roof of a building and it may dent but remain functional. Try that with a Kindle or iPad.