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Sustainability implications of organic user interface technologies: an inky problem

Abstract

T he moment you decide sustainability is an issue with respect to interaction design and the design of interactive devices is the moment you realize how complex the business of deciding what to actually do about it is. It is not just a simple matter of calculating the energy and environmental costs of manufacturing, use, salvage, and disposal of one technology over another. For example, it was long ago claimed that computing technologies would create a paperless office—a claim that is not yet in sight. Many people print things rather than read on screen—they like to hold paper in their hands and mark things up. Ever since I acquired a portrait mode capable LCD monitor, I have mostly stopped printing things. I can now read and write an entire page of text on my 1200x1600 pixel screen at 140% the size it would be if I printed it. As a result, I almost never print anything anymore. The environmental costs of the energy used to power my display must be weighed against the costs of printing the page when I am just reading, assuming that I would actually power-off my display when I am reading what has been printed. Furthermore , the environmental cost of production of the portrait mode display and the environmental costs of the premature obsolescence and disposal of the display I had before this one are also part of the equation. Environmental costs are not very static—increasing demands for a technology can drive down some such environmental costs while increasing some others. Nonetheless , Organic UI technologies, such as digital paper or flexible displays and E-Ink technologies offer promising potentials for the development of sustainable practices in interaction design. Each of these potentials has dangers of inducing unsustainable behaviors as well. One potential is due to an advantage of paper display technology itself. No energy is used when reading an E-Ink display owing to the bistability of the material—that is, digital paper preserves its state each time it is updated without the need for additional power. From the perspective of environmental sustainability, this seems to be a more important feature than the issue of the present environmental cost of making " a sheet of " digital paper, since such costs will change dramatically with improvements

DOI: 10.1145/1349026.1349038

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