Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Photocopiers. Now that seems like old, simple technology. There have been photocopiers around all of my life. Chester Carlson's first photocopier, the Xeorx 914, came out in 1959. (You should know the his name, as you should know the name Philo T. Farnsworth for the massive effect they have had, if indirectly, on your life)

Photocopiers are not bleeding edge in this day and age.

When I was young, you went to the library or the post office, laid your item to be copied on the glass sheet as indicated, covered it with the flexible lead-lined blast shield (similar to what your dentist puts on you when he takes X-rays), put your 10 cents in the machine, and received a blurry, somewhat grey edged, duplicate of your original. As an added bonus, it used to have a subtle scent, like that of paper off of the mimeograph machine at school, which would give you a mild sense of euphoria if inhaled deeply. (Ecstacy of the 70's? I knew a guy who used to hot box at the paper output slot.)

The choices were minimal. Your original could only be placed in one direction. A complicated machine might allow legal size paper or some minor adjustment of light/dark to control the amount of excess toner stuck to the edge of the page, but in general there was just one button. It said "copy."

Then came the 80's, and somewhere along the line the quality got much better, regular paper was used, and everything was good. In companies, sorters and collators found their way into the mix. There was even automatic stapling of your sorted and collated copies. The only worries were paper jams, low toner, and people who left the copier lid up.

Then the machines became too smart.

The first sign of real trouble was the automatic sensing of the size and orientation (horizontal, vertical, straight, or gay) of paper. Suddenly the lines indicating "letter" and "legal" sized paper morphed into a confusing rectilinear Venn diagram with indications of paper sizes you had never before encountered. (What paper size is STMT?) Copies came out with your original reproduced in an unexpected, and often cropped, fashion. Automatic paper choice meant your expense report receipts might very well come out blown up, cut off, and reproduced on a tabloid sized sheet. (Or was that A3?)

Then the copiers decided they didn't want to make copies at all, so they introduced a power save mode. In our department we had a copier until recently which took 10 minutes to warm up from power save mode and which went into power save mode after being idle for 20 minutes. You could start it up, walk away, and if you got distracted for an extra few minutes, you could come back to find the copier essentially off again.

And, yet, this copier was my friend. I could, if I timed things right, coax copies of my documents out of it on paper of approximately the right size on a regular basis. Granted, I could never get the sorter/collator to work, it was like trying to get HAL to open the pod bay doors, only it all transpired on a small LCD touch screen, but my copying needs are generally simple, so I could live with that.

True evil only came a few months ago, in the form of new copier. This time the copiers had won. I have never once gotten a copy out of this machine as I wanted it. The service tech never has to come visit this machine, as nobody can make copies on it. Toner expenses have plummeted in my department, since we all now go to another floor to use an older machine that is the big brother of our last functional copy machine.

This new machine has the same power save feature, but it is so much more evil. When you get it running finally, and you have your original in place, you press the multi-function button that seems like it should be the copy button. The copier will ask you on the LCD screen to confirm the paper size you want. It already KNOWS, the correct size is highlighted, but it seems to want you to feel involved with the whole copying process. Then it asks you from which paper tray you would like this paper to originate. When you select a tray, any tray, it informs you that the paper you have selected is not in that tray, and you have to start over. You soon find it claims to have no paper whatsoever, despite the obviously full paper trays. It is like the Cheese Shop sketch from Monty Python, only you don't get to shoot the copier in the end, because that isn't covered by our service contract.

When I complained about this last copier, I finally got to somebody at our former corporate HQ who told me that the copier we had was the corporate standard for departments of our size in remote offices according to our contract with Evil World Domination Copier Services, Inc.

Still, I have hope for the future. Our old parent company sold us to another company. Someday our new parent will cast its eye on our copier service contract, decide it does not align with the corporate standards, and force a new copier on us. Will it be evil? Will it be good? I cannot tell. All I know is that I unplugged the power cord to the current copier in our department several weeks ago and nobody has bothered to plug it back in.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, as someone who runs a print center and manages a copier fleet, this really had me in stitches. Hiliarious! Good job putting it into words.