Why do printers still fail, despite technological advances?
NPR’s Mary Louise kelly talks with New Yorker Joshua rothman about his story “why paper jam lasts” and discusses the limitations of technology.
Host MARY LOUISE KELLY:
Technology is advancing, bringing us smart speakers and smartphone updates and cars driving on the streets. However, this is a small challenge.
The terrible twinkling of orange.
Kelly: all of these files and fiddling, no fun.
All right, completely open – we purposely tried to roll out NPR’s most notorious printer at this moment. Why we even keep it is another day’s problem. But the question we’re using now – why is it still there? Joshua rothman accepted this question in the New Yorker, and he joins me now. Welcome.
JOSHUA ROTHMAN: hi. Thank you for your hospitality.
Kelly: how on earth are you interested in digging up something that makes us all anxious, but it looks so ordinary?
Rossman: well, it’s almost like you’ve been dramatic. I print things in the office like I do, and the printer is stuck. That’s exactly what I think – why in this world, we can still send people to the moon, but we can’t make a printer that won’t jam?
Kelly: what’s the answer – what did you find when you started the survey? Why – why is this a difficult challenge?
Rossman: it has to do with some kind of elemental struggle between nature and machinery.
Kelly: let me stop you there. An elemental struggle?
Rossman: yes. This actually combines with the printing of things that are natural, that is, paper. It comes from trees. It’s biological. Every piece of paper is different. On the other hand, there are printers, which are made of metal and plastic. Every year, printers get faster. You know, so jam is a permanent part of our lives. It’s just because you can’t have a combination of biology and mechanics, and it’s always perfect.
Kelly: when you look into the matter, you find that a key is called a paper trail. Instructions.
ROTHMAN: the paper path is what the engineer calls the paper that travels along its path as it navigates the printer. The main fact about the paper path is that it is more complex than anyone can imagine. It’s a zigzag. This is high speed. The paper became overheated. We know how paper comes out of the printer, and it’s warm. That’s because it’s crazy. It’s almost something that paper has to survive.
Rothman: well, I and one of the engineers told me an amazing story, basically involves – he was taken to a court in Chicago, there are a lot of paper jam, lawyers often submit their files at a later date. The deadline was so tight that prosecutors were derailed. By reducing the number of CARDS – essentially he found that the court was using substandard paper – he could increase the total number of prosecutions in the court.
Kelly: wow. I mean, it’s incredible. So, literally upgrading to slightly more expensive paper means that the speed of prosecution in this particular court is right?
Rossman: yes. It turns out that the quality of the paper is really important. And, you know, the paper jams looks really there is one thing, that is they are just part of a large group of technical problems, these technical problems are on lubrication wheels and keep things.
Kelly: will it be possible to build a seamless printer?
Rothman: you know, the engineers I talked to came to the conclusion that, no, you’ll never have a seamless printer, basically because you’ll never have a perfect machine. We will never perfect the world we build.
Kelly: our baseball bats are always tucked up in the corner of the office just in case…
Kelly:… Attack the printer when they fail.
Rossman: yeah. That’s right. That’s right. Completely.
Kelly: Joshua rothman, thank you very much.
Roseman: thank you.
Kelly: that’s Joshua rothman. He is a New Yorker profile editor. His news story is “why paper jam persists”.
SOUNDBITE OF SONG
Unidentified singer :(singing) paper jam.