Copy that.

Something occurred to me this morning as I began my daily battle with the office photocopier. Why is it that in every single place I’ve ever worked, the photocopier has special needs?

Is it me? Do I have the copier curse upon me? Or is it just that no one, no one in this age of technological miracles including toilets that can practically exfoliate your arse and phones that can send messages independently of you, tell you the current weather on Mars, send flowers to your aunt Josephine, and remind you to pick up milk on the way home from work, no one has figured out how to make a photocopier that Just Works?

There was the one you had to tilt slightly so that it wouldn’t just print out blank pages. Another one would only print streaky lines unless you remembered to thump it hard with the heel of your hand prior to pressing COPY. Another refused to register that it had sufficient toner until you lifted the cartridge out and shook it until your hands (and, in my case, clothes, face, office furniture and carpet) were stained.

The old one at my current workplace was the worst I’ve encountered to date as it would jam somewhere around copy 11 each time, eat several pages in apparent fury at the world and its own feelings of inadequacy, and require a lengthy surgical operation to retrieve the shredded paper from its whirring innards. I protested pathetically for months on end and was delighted when a new machine finally appeared in the office – only to discover that this one’s own special little endearing personality trait is to stop printing mid-batch for no obvious reason and demand that you open all its various lids and trays and drawers and orifices. You have to do this in a particular order, too, and then close them all in sequence. No one knows why. My own personal theory is that it is just an attention-seeking fecker.

I fought it for months, and now I have reached a sort of weary acceptance of what our relationship is. I used to get angry and frustrated, mutter furiously, swear a little, slam lids and trays, give it the occasional slap. Once, my director came in to find me shaking it in a blind rage, yelling what do you want from me, you stupid, worthless piece of junk?! Which was a little embarrassing. Then I realised that none of that makes any difference whatsoever. It’s like trying to shut up a 5-year-old who is hellbent on getting the yellow pencil. You can raise your voice, you can glare, you can reason, you can explain, you can punish – but the child will not do his work until he has the fecking yellow pencil.

What are you doing? one of my colleagues asked me in fascinated curiosity as she watched me perform my well-practiced dance with the copier one morning. I had been carrying on a conversation with her all the while as I systematically opened and closed everything, on autopilot. You have to do this every now and again, I explained wearily, slamming the final tray closed and waiting for the beep of acknowledgement from my friend the existential photocopier.  Then it will finish making your copies. Honestly, I think it just likes to know you’re still there and you’re not going to leave it.

Beep-beep-beep! agreed the copier, springing back to life again in a flood of lights and whirring and self-validation. I pushed the COPY button and glanced at my colleague. You don’t do this?

No, she said, clearly torn between admiration of my ability to assess problems and devise a method for dealing with them, and concern at the realisation that I am apparently in a committed relationship with a piece of malfunctioning office equipment. I just switch it off and switch it on again. How on Earth did you ever figure out to do all that?

We all have our ways of dealing with these things, I said defensively.

I don’t get it, though. Why, when I can send a message to the other side of the planet in a second, and find information about absolutely anything with the click of a button, can’t I just press “36” and “COPY” and expect to get 36 copies, just like that? It doesn’t seem unreasonable… and yet, at the same time, I have never been involved with a photocopier that has not made me feel like I am being needy, demanding, and self-centered with my copying requests.

Such is the age we live in.

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5 thoughts on “Copy that.

  1. Susanne Walter says:

    You know, as long as it´s an adult fotocopier and it´s consenting, I don´t see what´s wrong with thumping it. However, if you´re unhappy with the relationship, I have this piece of priceless knowledge, imparted to me by one of my bosses in an age when computers were about as big as a house: ordinary paper has a “good” side, which is a little bit smoother. You can just about feel it. Over the years, I´ve found that lots of photocopiers find it somehow satisfying if you put in the paper good side up. (Woe betide you, should you try to print on scrap paper.) But then, of course, I´m not a qualified relationship counselor, I just speak from my own extensive experience with special-needs office equipment.

    Loved your post, obviously!

  2. The photocopier at my work will copy perfectly as long as one particular colleague is around. If anyone else switches it on paper will inevitably get jammed, or it decide to only copy half of the page, or just refuse to copy at all. Or, as with the last time I tried to use it, spit out 10 copies despite being asked to do ONE. And refuse to stop no matter how many times you press cancel. Unfortunately, this particular collague has now finished her training with us and only comes in 2 afternoons a week while she completes her studies. We are doomed!!

  3. This post should be printed out and tacked to the wall next to copiers everywhere! Right now I’m reminiscing fondly about the copier we had at one of my schools that required you to shuffle/fluff/leaf through the entire ream of paper before you put it in. If you didn’t, the thing would jam consistently until the new (hopefully, fluffed) ream was put in. I could never understand why it was so: it just was.

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