I wonder what radio means in the following context:


Will people still read books 100 years from now? A few years ago, many people would have said no. It seemed likely that computers and the internet would replace books. Now, however, most experts think that books are here to stay.

There are a number of reasons why computers won't replace books entirely. One reason is that books on paper are much cheaper than computers. Books don't need a power source either. You can read a book for as long as you want and wherever you want. You never have to worry about losing power. Also, many people feel more comfortable reading words in a book than reading words on a computer screen. It's less tiring to the eyes.

Will books in the future be similar to the books you can buy today? The answer to that question is no. In the future, you may only need to buy one book. With this one book, you will be able to read novels, plays, and even today's newspaper. It will look like today's book, but it will be electronic.

One of the people working on the book of the future is Professor Joseph Jacobson from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. Professor Jacobson's book will have a small button on the side. When you press the button, words will instantly appear on the page. When you want to read a different story, you can push the button again and a new story will quickly appear.

What is the technology behind Professor Jacobson's book? Two important inventions will make this new kind of book possible: electronic ink and radio paper. Electronic ink -or "e-ink"- is a liquid that can be printed on paper, metal or anything else. E-ink looks and feels like printed works on paper. Unlike regular ink, however, words in e-ink are not permanent. They can be changed by pushing a button. When you push the button, all of the words on the page go away and new words appear.

The other new development is radio paper. This paper looks and feels like a page in a book. In reality, however, radio paper is made of plastic.

Professor Jacobson calls his book of the future "the last book." This book, he says, will be the last book you will ever need.



2 Answers 2



The "radio paper" is not only flexible, but it can also receive information like the way we broadcast news and programs on radio. I believe that the original idea was literally based on the idea of "radio" (as in FM radio), and later was adapted to the wireless network due to the popularity and practicality of wireless communications.

From your text:

The other new development is radio paper. This paper looks and feels like a page in a book. In reality, however, radio paper is made of plastic.

This says almost nothing about "radio paper". It could easily make us think "radio paper" is just paper that is made of plastic (which is, not quite correct).

To understand what this term means, we have to read it in the context, and do some research. Again, from your text, this is the sentence that mentions radio paper the first time:

What is the technology behind Professor Jacobson's book? Two important inventions will make this new kind of book possible: electronic ink and radio paper.

So, we need two inventions to make Professor Jacobson's book possible: electronic ink (or e-ink) and radio paper. I'll assume that you know what e-ink is, and discuss radio paper based on the information pulled from various sources I found on the web.

Prof. Joseph Jacobson's E Ink and "radio paper"

Luckily, your text leaves a very good clue to find out what "radio paper" is really about. It mentions Professor Joseph Jacobson from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and "radio paper" is (according to the text) one of the two inventions that make his "future book" possible.

Who is he?

Joseph Jacobson is head of the Media Lab's Molecular Machines research group, and a technical founder of E Ink Corporation. (source: MIT Media Lab)

What's his and his colleagues' vision of "radio paper"?

These recent prototypes have brought E Ink closer to its ultimate goal. "We call it 'radio paper,'" McCreary explains of the third stage in the E Ink business plan. This will be flexible digital paper with high-resolution-color capabilities that could be reconfigured via a wireless data network.
Source: Scientific American: Feature Article: The Electronic Paper Chase: November 2001

According to the article, Michael D. McCreary (E Ink's vice president of research and development) mentioned "radio paper", which would have two important characteristics: flexible, and reconfigurable via a wireless network.

No wonder that they called Kindle their first test of "radio paper".

“Sony proved our technology was viable, but the Kindle was the first time ‘radio paper’ had been tested,” says Russell J. Wilcox, chief executive of E Ink in Cambridge, Mass.
Source: Is E Ink Publishing's Savior? - Forbes

This gets "radio paper" closer to the sense of "radio" as many of us might have guessed. It may be called "radio paper" because the contents that are displayed on the paper could be transmitted wirelessly. (Note that, as far as I know, Kindle is the first e-ink device that can download books wirelessly from its online bookstore.)

But wait! If you think this is how the term "radio paper" was conceived, keep reading.

The real meaning of 'radio paper'

It's convincing to understand "radio" in terms of "wireless", but even though the two terms are related, they are not the same thing. And if the idea of "radio paper" was conceived before it was actually implemented via a wireless data network, why they chose the term "radio"?

Here is a big clue:

Radio paper
It turns out that the conductive inks used to make e-paper can function as radio antennas. Other inks used in e-paper can be turned into radio transistors. This makes "radio paper," which can be as thin as notepad stock and sit on a coffee table or in your pocket, receiving FM news broadcasts. It "typesets" itself - every hour or day - with the latest news. With e-ink, a single piece of paper displays the news for years.
Source: Surfaces and Displays

So, it's quite likely that the original idea was literally about "radio", as in FM radio. This is because of a technical property of e-paper that makes it possible for e-paper to function as radio attennae. And that makes it quite plausible to imagine that we may receive (or would have had received?) broadcast news continuously on "radio paper", pretty much the same way we listen to radio.


I haven't heard the term before. This article -- http://searchmobilecomputing.techtarget.com/definition/e-paper -- seems to say that it's any technology that allows you to display content on a sheet with some sort of e-ink, and that that content will then remain visible until you overwrite it.

Amazon refers to their Kindle devices as using "e-ink". Frankly I don't know if a Kindle would be considered a piece of radio paper. I don't think so, though. It sounds like the concept has something in mind that more closely resembles a sheet of paper.

Happy to yield to someone familiar with this term.

  • "it's any technology that allows you to display content on a sheet with some sort of e-ink" I don't understand what it has to do with the word radio.
    – Mori
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 5:57
  • I don't think, from the couple of articles on the web that I was able to find on the phrase, that it has anything to do with radio. It's just a name somebody made up. Maybe somebody was thinking that the content would be delivered by radio, as opposed to having to plug it in to something. But I'm just speculating.
    – Jay
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 13:13
  • The concept is a flexible screen that can display information rather than a stiff tablet/screen.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 21:22
  • I think @Jay is probably right that the name comes from sending the content wirelessly (via radio waves). Another possibility: 'radio' is a word (like 'atomic') that at one time conveyed a general sense of technological sophistication - using it as an adjective might simply convey the same sense as the 'e-' prefix - a 'Radio X' might be like a regular X, but more advanced. Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 22:13

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