This article originally appeared on VICE US.
There are a lot of very valid reasons to be angry right now. I know I’m angry; I’m pissed at the federal government, I’m pissed at the state government, I’m pissed at anyone who has ever sent an annoying tweet (myself included!), and I’m even kind of pissed that “my podcasts” aren’t getting released fast enough.
But one gripe, though small at face value, stands out as a maddening indignity: I don’t own a printer, yet during this pandemic, life still demands that I print documents. We’ve never been more capable (or more in need) of a paperless future, and it’s my personal feeling I’ve never been asked to print more urgent documents than I have been right now.
I don’t own a printer, generally speaking, because it is well-documented that printers are a scam. In fact, there is nearly a decade of robust digital journalism to back me up. In 2010, The Oatmeal declared that printers were “sent from Hell to make us miserable.” In 2012, Gizmodo attempted to pin down “why printers suck” and offer a handful of solutions; clearly, this was not enough.
In 2016, Wirecutter took a stab at the same question, dubbing the machines “janky money pits.” Later that year, the New Statesman asked how printers could still suck “in 2016,” which feels like a whimsical question four years later when literally everything sucks! And in 2019, the Outline declared that, because of capitalism, printers will always be awful: “The need for printing physical documents is rapidly declining and home printers will soon be obsolete,” Joe Veix wrote. “There will be no innovations or disruptions.”
Printers are also bad for the environment. No Greta, but the ink cartridges are a major source of waste, leaking chemicals into the soil below. They also encourage bringing paper into a scenario where no paper could possibly be necessary, since we can do everything with computers now.
Frankly, obsolescence cannot come fast enough.
Still, under normal circumstances, all this printer-related guilt and agony is manageable, mostly due to the wide availability of publicly accessible (ish) printers in many different places: offices, coworking spaces, at coffee shops, libraries, the homes of friends who played themselves by shelling out money for some an obstinate piece of garbage they will use once to twice a year.
Now, our homes are the office, the coworking space, and the coffee shop. It’s insulting that as our lives grind to a halt, the institutions we’re all beholden to don’t recognize that maybe, just maybe, our printing capacity has changed along with literally everything else.
In these medically and financially disastrous times, the requirement to print and sign a piece of paper in the most official of situations creates another barrier to vital resources that not everyone can successfully bypass. Printer access, and with it the ability to file an insurance claim or control the money in a bank account, could very well be the determining factor in someone visiting a doctor’s office for COVID-19 care or seeking treatment for a mental health professional right now, which means it’s a literal life or death issue. That’s why cheap and low-cost printing options existed in the first place.
Personally, I’m fortunate that all of my printer-related woes in the past few months have been relatively limited in scope (so far). This means someone (like my mom) might ask: Why not just buy one? A workable printer costs, what, $100?
Oh, does Maximilian DeskJet III really need more of my hard-earned cash lining his bulging pockets? Is [redacted Canadian online retailer]/the New York State Board of Elections/Cigna in cahoots with Big Paper, scheming to get me to purchase a ream for $22 at Walgreens? Well, not today, Michael Scott! I am nobody’s fool and I will not be cowed into printer submission!
If anything, this is the time to hold the powers that be accountable for the demands they make, to push them to move towards a low-waste, accessible future. Even the IRS didn’t want to print out stimulus checks for every single American citizen who qualified. Something’s gotta give. Sure, I myself am mostly being lazy, but we have to ask whether companies and governments bring paper into all of these transactions as a hurdle to get us to give up. The Canadian online retailer obviously won’t lose sleep if I can’t return the stuff I bought, or else it would include a shipping label; my insurer obviously doesn’t want to reimburse me for a claim or it would let me file online with digital forms. It might as well ask me to carve my therapist’s tax ID number into a stone tablet and personally carry it into their offices.
But, in the meantime—does anyone reading this have a printer? I need to return some sandals. I’ll Venmo you. DM me.
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