We’d love to be totally paperless, but the old printer still has its place

By JJ Rosen August 21, 2022

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

My freshman year of college was rough.

It wasn’t anything about the school itself. The classes I took were all interesting, and the people I met became fast friends.

My roommate was a very nice guy from Ohio. We immediately hit it off with shared interests around music, going to the gym, and watching sports on our tiny TV.

But there was one issue that we were never able to resolve.

Every night at about 3 a.m., my roommate would print all the class notes he had transcribed from paper to his computer. In today’s modern world with very quiet laser printers this wouldn’t be an issue. But in 1988, the only technology most people could afford was a “dot matrix” printer that sounded like an old-school typewriter as it grinded away pulling a roll of paper through it.

The loud screeching noises that my roommate’s dot matrix printer made in the middle of every night were impossible to sleep through.  With my classes starting at 8 a.m., I was perpetually exhausted. I became resentful—not toward my roommate, but toward his printer.

And thus, it began—my lifelong grudge against printers.

I know it sounds funny, but as a computer consultant and tech enthusiast, the printer is the one piece of technology that I have never liked.

Paper jams, pricey replacement cartridges, bugs in printer drivers—this list goes on.  Printers are the least reliable piece of tech that still sits in most people’s homes and offices.

It used to be that printing was a mission-critical task. Businesses relied on their printers to print everything from paychecks to legal documents to proposals. If a printer was down it was often an emergency, and our IT support firm would scramble.

But today, this is no longer the case. With constant connectivity, powerful search software, digital signatures, and unlimited low-cost cloud storage, many businesses have become 90% paperless.  Expensive printers now spend the majority of their time sitting idle waiting for the few print jobs that come their way.

So, will the printer become obsolete?

Despite a decade-long push toward the paperless office and our decreasing volume of printed paperwork, it seems likely that printers may still be around for quite some time, much to my chagrin.

Some of the printer’s resilience is owed to industries that see paper as an integral part of their business. Healthcare, legal, and financial companies continue to use printers because paper copies are deeply entrenched as part of their operations.

And some of the printer’s staying power can be attributed to its cost dropping over time. For many people and businesses, the few times a year they need to print is worth the cost of having a printer at the ready.

So while it’s likely that printer sales will continue to slowly decline, it seems unlikely that printers will completely disappear. And the large printer manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard, Canon, and Brother have done a nice job of integrating scanning into their printers to keep them relevant in a more digital society.

It’s been over 30 years since those days of being jolted out of a deep sleep by my roommate’s nightly note-printing binges. I suppose I should be grateful that today I don’t have to share a tiny room with a printer, I only have to fight the occasional paper jam, and the only thing that wakes me up at 3 a.m. is my wife’s snoring.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville custom software development and IT support company. Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.

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