December 07, 2008

Ditch Your Printer Says Wired's Charlie Sorrel. We Say Ditch Sorrel's Silly Argument.

By Kara Hiltz

DoubleSided: Wired's Linkbait Gambit Works. Too Bad Its Arguments Don't Compute.


In Five Useless Gadgets You Should Throw In The Trash Right Now, Wired scribe Charlie Sorrel claims that people don't need printers, scanners, or fax machines. Oh really? Before we throw in the towel and shut down Databazaar Blog, let's dig deeper.

Wired's Five Useless Gadgets Are Probably Staples in Your Home

Sorrel offers a disclaimer before delving into his top-five list. He states that the five gadgets still have relevance in the workplace. But in homes, he finds printers, scanners, built-in optical drives, fax machines, and landline phones a waste of "space and electricity."

Sorrel tries to debunk printers' usefulness through two examples: photo printing, which he claims is cheaper through online printing sites, and printing articles to read later, which he suggests you can read on most cell phones.

And if you have an all-in-one printer, you might feel even more slighted to read that Sorrel finds both scanners and fax machines obsolete as well. He argues that you don't need scanners for photos since no one shoots on film anymore, and that you don't need them for documents because you can take a digital photo of a document and use OCR software on the photo. Sorrel claims that fax machines originally transported documents faster than snail mail, but in today's world email is faster.

Can You Say Linkbait?

Why did Wired publish this article? Because provocative articles — even silly ones — generate lots of comments and links. After all, we're reporting on and linking to Sorrel's silly article.

Why is it silly? Where shall we start?

Using a service for photo prints doesn't exactly provide for instant gratification. As for reading articles on a cell phone, while we admit the iPhone offers a good experience, no other smartphone and certainly no ordinary cell phone does (because no other phone offers multi-touch). Can you imagine reading a Vanity Fair article on your cheapo Razr? Also, Sorrel must have 20/15 vision. Good for him. Those less fortunate tend to prefer reading longer articles on paper.

His other arguments are equally weak. To wit:

People may not use film anymore, but they have plenty of photos from the old days.

Courts accept faxed signatures as proof but not emailed signatures (unless digitally certified, which requires expensive software like Adobe Acrobat).

Finally, do you really want to take a photo of every page of your mortgage or other lengthy documents? Do you even want to snap a photo of a one page document? Think about it — you have to frame each shot unless you want to permanently set up a tripod over your desk. Scanners are faster. Way, way faster. And you end up with a better image too. Digital photos don't work as well with OCR software.

Most Readers Agree — Sorrel Silly

Many Wired readers left comments (some fuming) with valid reasons for continuing to use their useless printers and scanners.

"Who is it that never use printers? Do they never fly on an airline that allows online check-in (but expects you to print and bring the boarding pass)?" writes Monica.

"I'm not a professional anything, but don't try lumping everyone into one or two groups. I like to draw, so the scanner is useful. Anyone who draws needs a scanner," notes Hauser.

Many readers wrote about their use of printers, scanners, and fax machines for business purposes, which Sorrel anticipated with his initial disclaimer. But Sorrel's disclaimer is a straw man. Who doesn't bring work home nowadays? Just Sorell it would seem.

"As a graphic artist, I use my scanner all the time. Customers bring me letterheads, business cards, cocktail napkins, and printed T-shirts that they want me to reproduce, and ... that's all they have," comments Neil.

Some Readers Say Sorrel More Swift Than Silly

The response to Wired's list of useless gadgets wasn't completely negative. Some readers seemed to feel (without saying it) that Sorrel was channeling Jonathan Swift to make a point: A world of ever-expanding technology makes us feel like we should own a piece of technology without considering its true usefulness.

We say these folks gave Sorrel too much credit. We know brilliant satire when we see it and we also know linkbait when we see it. Sorrel created the latter, not the former.

Everyone Prints

People have every right to get angry when a heretofore reputable publication suggests that the technology on which they rely serves no relevant purpose. Obviously, we're biased. But just look at all the new consumer class printers we cover. They would not exist in the absence of demand. Of course, not everyone has a printer at home. But these people probably have one at work they can use for personal purposes. In other words, they still use a printer. Silly Sorrel.

About DoubleSided
We all have our idiosyncrasies. So do printers as it turns out. In our DoubleSided feature, we explore the lighter side of printers as well as the esoteric and bizarre. We also peer into the future of printing. From fabbers to printing on toast, you'll find it all here.

Article Filed Under: DoubleSided Printers

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