Mimicking e-ink with macOS

For several years now I have been wondering how I might fit an e-ink display into my workflow. It’s not as simple as just getting one of the cool e-ink tablets that exist. For example the recently announced DC-1 from Daylight Computer looks amazing. Unfortunately, I do not possess the hand strength to handle a tablet. No, I’m stuck with using a Mac with a single-button mouse.

I could purchase an e-ink display for use with my Mac, though there aren’t a lot of consumer-friendly choices out there that I could find. But even if I do, it’s not ideal because I can only view one display at a time (I can’t turn my head) and I don’t think I could commit to e-ink for periods long enough to justify moving monitors around. I don’t know. We’ll see.

But I had a thought. I realized that with the right settings a Mac display could be made to feel like an e-ink one. Obviously it is but a facsimile of one—we’re talking about two radically different display technologies after all. But the Mac has a few tricks up its sleeve.

Try these settings to micmic an e-ink display

It’s not e-ink, but it’s something

I think the secret sauce to this effect is the Increase contrast setting. In general, I’ve never cared for the high contrast effect (not that it’s bad, just not for me). But that’s because I was also using my display at a moderate brightness level and in full color.

Something happens when you take all the color away and turn the brightness down. The high contrast style evokes the retro feeling of a Mac OS from a different time. There is a simple, even brutalist appeal. It may not be e-ink, but it definitely feels like something different. Quieter. Slower.

I’m writing this post in iA Writer and this app in particular excels in this environment. In fact, open a few apps, visit a few websites—the ones with great design will stand out even more now. Good composition and use of contrast win the day. Designs that overuse color get the rug pulled out from under them in this mode.

I’m not intending to always use my computer this way[1] but I can imagine using this mode for reading and writing. It’s an interesting way to trick the brain into switching contexts. This is especially true for me. Being very disabled, I can’t just decide, “you know what, I think I will leave the desk and go work from the couch for a while.” This isn’t a replacement for that, necessarily, but a good option to have when I need to make a mental reset.

Anyway, if you happen to try it out, let me know what you think (@bw@social.lol or blake@blakewatson.com). I’m also interested if you have alternative settings that do something similar.

  1. I can’t use grayscale all the time because I use Cursorless for Talon and Visual Studio Code, which specifically relies on color to annotate tokens in the editor. ↩︎