If humankind designed one device with the sole purpose of driving people insane, it must surely be the desktop printer.
This seems counterintuitive because the desktop printer is a convenience my late father, born in 1918, could not have imagined.
He was a salesman. He wrote his invoices on custom stationery using carbon paper to make copies.
I have a fancy wi-fi printer, which means I can send jobs to the printer from any computer in the house, even my smartphone or tablet, without being connected to it by a cable.
I needed to print a spreadsheet to grade oral discussions in my middle school English classes.
It was a five-page document.
You might wonder why I didn’t print this at work.
That’s because I haven’t figured out how to print at work.
I send the job to the printer in the office. I go to the office and swipe my employee ID and enter a code.
The job is supposed to print.
I have never successfully completed this without the assistance of the office secretary or another teacher.
I figured it would just be easier for me to print this small document at home.
This proved foolish.
I tried to print the document from my phone, but my phone couldn’t find the printer.
The phone costs hundreds of dollars and can plot a driving route from my home to Burbank, California, but it can’t find the printer sitting on my desk in the bedroom of a 650-square-foot apartment.
Anyway, back in July,
my property manager changed internet service providers and I hadn’t updated the settings on the printer.
I updated the wi-fi settings.
Then I tried to print.
It told me there was no paper.
But I saw a thick stack of copy paper in the slot.
I switched the paper with the fresher paper.
It still would not print.
My blood pressure started to bubble.
I checked all the flashing lights.
One button just had an “X” on it. I was afraid to touch that. It might self-destruct.
One button had a picture of a dog-eared piece of paper. It flashed an orange light.
I think this means it’s a problem.
Or maybe it’s Christmas. I really don’t know.
I pressed that button.
It printed a test sheet with a bunch of gibberish.
OK, I thought, we are on the right track.
I tried to print it again.
The job failed and gave me an error code.
Whoever invented error codes to tell people what’s wrong with their electronics should be forced to eat a sandwich made of broken glass wrapped in tinfoil.
I looked at the gauges again.
The display showed a tube-like thing blinking.
The hieroglyphics used by electronics companies are like the check engine light in your car: No one knows what it means other than you are about to spend a lot of money on something you don’t understand.
It was at this point I called my therapist.
It was after hours; the answering service picked up.
The operator said, “Oh, hello Mr. Finney. I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you doing?”
Well, I’m calling my therapist with an anxiety emergency after hours. Draw your own conclusions.
But I took the operator’s cheery tone in stride. It really had been a while since I tried to print.
My therapist suggested I set the project aside and get a good night’s sleep.
Alas, a worried mind does not easily let go of the object of its obsession.
“Why won’t things just work the way they’re supposed to?” I asked.
“The next time you come into the office, I’ll show you the red blinking light on my printer,” he said. “It’s been on for two years. I don’t know what it means, but it prints OK most of the time.”
Dear Lord, the printers conspire even against my therapist — a respected man of science.
What chance did I have?
Still, I would not bend my knee to the tyranny of malfunctioning microchips.
An online search revealed the printer needed new ink.
I dug into my desk and pulled out the spare cartridges. I put them in and closed the printer door.
I tried to print.
The error message said the printer door was open.
It was not open. I know darn well I closed that door.
The printer door was open.
I closed it.
My document was printed.
I won, but victory came without thrill or joy.
For five sheets of paper, I briefly surrendered dignity and sanity.
The next time I’m going to draw out the spreadsheet with graph paper, a pica pole, and a black Flair pen.
I wonder if they still make carbon paper.
Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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