Two Inventions That Make Reading Paper Books A Completely New Experience

From electric ink to aromapoetry – the physical book is about to undergo a renaissance by being paired with some nifty new inventions.

While paper epitomises the slow lane of publishing, it is anything but a static medium. Traditional analogue technologies such as ink and paper are now being developed in ways that can and in all likelihood will revolutionise the material, printed book.

Sketching Circuits

Conductive inks such as those produced by the British firm Bare Conductive mean that pen and ink can be used to make circuits – and a piece of paper could feasibly become a circuit board, much like that in a computer but infinitely more flexible and versatile.

This particular company makes a touch board which allows users to create a keyboard using pen, paper and conductive ink. And Tom Metcalfe and Michael Shorter at the University of Dundee have used similar materials to create a pair of paper headphones.

Two Inventions That Make Reading Paper Books A Completely New Experience

Artists in particular are using conductive inks to create artworks which offer new forms of interactivity. In his Lagoglyphic Sound System, the Brazilian-American artist Eduardo Kac showed how conductive ink could be used for silk-screen printing. As the viewer touches different parts of Kac’s print, different musical sounds are heard.

On a larger scale, Fabio Lattanzi Antinori’s Contours, made in collaboration with Bare Conductive and Alicja Pytlewska, used conductive ink to create interactive tapestries with capacitive sensors which are a metaphor for the idea of breathing life into a textile skin. As visitors touch the tapestries, they modulate a data-driven ambient soundscape reminiscent of a medical research environment.

In another collaboration with Bare Conductive shown at the V&A last month, Data Flags, Fabio uses the interactive possibilities of conductive ink to allow visitors to explore the contemporary tragedy of the collapse of the Lehmann Brothers bank.

The Interactive Book

Discussion of the “death of the book” has been going on for many years. We have got used to the idea that the physical artefact of the book may be replaced by e-readers or other forms of access to information. The speed and nature of these changes and the extent to which will the book will survive have been extensively and hotly debated.

But given these advances in technology, this debate may well prove to have been misconceived in ways we didn’t expect. If paper and ink are being transformed so that they become interactive digital media, surely the same can happen with the physical book. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch to imagine a book printed with conductive ink which you touch to see and hear illustrations or supporting material. An interactive pop poster where you can hear the sound of the band by pressing a thumbnail image has already been produced.

Conductive ink is not the only new material which is prompting artists, designers, poets and authors to re-imagine new possibilities for the printed page. Indie publishing platform Blurb and visual arts studio Jotta have collaborated to create Unbinding the Book. Nine artists and designers were commissioned to challenge preconceptions of who can be an author and what a book can be, using sound, light, touch and voice.

And the range of technologies that are contributing to rethinking the book as a sensual material artefact is growing. Eduardo Kac has recently experimented with aromapoetry, a form of poem – and book – to be read with the nose.



Image Source

It seems likely that instead of the death of the book we are actually looking at its rebirth. In the classical period, the scroll was replaced by the codex for certain types of text. The wider emergence of the codex in the 4th century reshaped mankind’s understanding of how information is interrelated. In the 12th century, elaborate wooden receipts called tally sticks enabled accounts to be more easily kept, and deeds began to be kept in triplicate to prevent forgery.

Today, we are simply seeing another such reshaping of the way we sort information. New materials such as conductive ink are simply part of this constant process of refining ways in which we engage with text.

What do you think, will this make reading physical books more interesting?

A different version of this article was written by Andrew Prescott for The Conversation. This Creative Commons article has been edited by me for this blog. 

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

9 thoughts on “Two Inventions That Make Reading Paper Books A Completely New Experience

  1. Very interesting article. However, I think when people read a printed out version of a book, they are interested into keeping it as simple as possible. If you want complicated, you have tablets and e-readers 🙂 Not sure if any of these technologies will be used on a larger scale. But i guess we have to wait and see. Have a lovely Monday! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lucy, yes I think it changes the nature of storytelling quite dramatically by making it non-chronological and non-linear. Ebooks in a way can be sort of ‘choose your own adventure’ style where you can navigate to where you want and change it up. I don’t know – I love the predictability of old-style books better, what about you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. After getting my kindle last year in June, and with a lot of travelling which needed to be done in the past year, I can say I got caught into using it more and more often. It’s much easier to carry 3-4 books in a kindle than in a luggage 🙂 It takes a bit less space. Still, I love the smell of a good old paper book, and sometimes, especially when it comes to learning stuff, I do better with a printer out book. I guess I’m a bit in the middle on this one. What about you? Old or new school?


      2. Hi Lucy, I know what you mean the convenience. I find I learn more when I am on the computer or a digital interactive format for reading, but I love the experience of paper books too, there is something comforting and familar about it, like putting on an old jumper and having a cup of tea 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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