Is it possible to hate your printer more? Yes
DECEMBER 2, 2019 — 9:44AM
“I designed home printers,” he groans.
“Really. What sent you to Hades?”
“I designed home printers.”
“Anyone else in your business down here?”
“All of us.”
I believe I speak for the entirety of humanity when I say we all loathe our printers. Oh, right, I see a hand up in the back. Yes, let me guess. You have a Canson XE845 Laser Printer you got in 2004, and it’s never jammed or given you a bad copy, and it cost $5,393, and you actually know what “toner” is. Thank you. The rest of us have a different story.
I bring up the matter because soon you might be needing holiday card labels or letters, and you will need to print them. That’s your first problem, right there: needing to print. Printers are perfectly fine if you never want to print anything, but if you ask your Bartleby EZPrint HomeOfficeMate 43920 to do the thing for which it was specifically designed, it will inform you that it prefers not to.
Yes, this is an old, tired gripe. We have lamented for years that the printer will not print the word “magenta” in black and white because it is out of magenta. We all know that when we go to print, we suddenly fear we are magenta-deficient. After all, we can’t go to the cupboard for some extra magenta.
But there’s a new type of printer you might be tempted to buy, and this requires a tale about something I thought impossible: It made me hate my printer more.
A few years ago, my old printer expired from clogged nozzles, permanently unaligned heads, corrupted color profiles and all the other maladies that afflict these junky chunks of money-sucking plastic. The new one had a twist — you’d sign up for a small monthly fee, and ink would automatically arrive at your door before it went dry. Doesn’t that sound fantastic?
Since Daughter went off to college and there was no more need to print off assignments, I haven’t printed much. So the other day I got to thinking: Why pay $5.99 a month so I can print a boarding pass from my phone when I can cancel it and spend that $5.99 on a new streaming service I’ll never watch?
But what of the holiday labels? I saw an ad for a new printer that had tanks of ink, refillable from bottles. For once you could actually have extra magenta on hand, so you could yell at the printer in triumph. “Hah! You thought you had me, didn’t you? Well, I’ve got magenta coming out of my ears, pal. Open wide.”
Count me in. Off to the store I went.
“How often do you print?” the clerk asked.
I replied, “Hardly ever. Maybe a family photo. Given the price of ink, I’d be better off hiring an artist to draw the pictures.”
He nodded. “This isn’t for you. The ink will dry up.”
Well, dang. An honest man. Went home, looked at the printer. “Guess we’re stuck together until you fail at some crucial juncture. But at least I’ve got a full supply of ink for holiday labels ...”
Hello, there’s a blinking light. It can’t connect to the internet or Wi-Fi. I tried printing; nothing. Tried reinstalling the software; nothing.
Then my printer sent me an e-mail, which is a bit like getting a registered letter from your vacuum cleaner or a phone call from your stove. Since I had unenrolled from the ink program, the cartridges — for which I’d already paid — would not work after tomorrow.
In a way, it was oddly impressive that someone had come up with a way to make printers even more evil. It also seemed obvious that the manufacturer had bricked my printer and made it unable to connect to my computer, but would they really go that far? Excommunicate the customer and cast him into the slough of despair just because he had enough ink for a while and canceled the automatic delivery?
There was only one way to be sure. I re-enrolled in the ink program. About a minute later the printer found the internet, connected to my computer and happily spat out a picture I’d sent as a test.
Wretched as this is, I had agreed to it. I had clicked ACCEPT when I signed up for the ink, and 4,320 lines down in the agreement was a paragraph saying something along the lines of:
“You grant the manufacturer (hereafter, Satan) the right to disable your purchase at any time if Satan decides that you no longer seem sufficiently devotional to the Product, or have attempted to sever your pact with Satan to consume the ink, or no longer believe that Satan is your best option for home office solutions.”
Satan must have kicked himself when he came up with that one. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? These idiots will agree to anything if the contract’s too long.
This is the conversation we will have in the lake of fire: “What are you in for?”
“Agreed to the End User License Agreement for my printer. And you?”
“Oh, I wrote it.”
James Lileks is a Star Tribune columnist.
firstname.lastname@example.org 612-673-7858 @lileks