Do you remember the moment in MadMen when the photocopier was first delivered to the Sterling Cooper office? (Yes, eventually I had to mention MadMen again. Is it a bit surprising to anyone else I haven’t since my first column right here?) Really, it was a grand moment. And a lot of that grand moment was because of the subtlety. Joan doesn’t know where to put it. She thinks it looks messy. She thinks it’s ugly (it is ugly; they’re almost always ugly). She doesn’t think the clients will like to see it—which, is strange because what would you think of a big Ad Agency today that DIDN’T have a copier? The secretary pool seems happy enough to keep on with whatever system they have—this blows my mind. Clearly they cannot imagine the ease this will bring into their life, along with mechanical frustration.
I can’t remember if we know beforehand by perceptive imagery what method they are using in the Sterling Cooper office, but I seem to remember seeing carbon paper early on. Yikes. If you think things are messy at your day job now (everyone has an underpaying, stressful, office day job not using their passion or college degrees, don’t they?) between the white out and changing of cartridges and general personality conflicts, just imagine if you had carbon paper on top of it. In my limited carbon paper experience, carbon paper leads inevitably to smudges on everything. Imagine the dry-cleaning bills! (Today that is, anyway, if we were using carbon paper, because, honey, you can’t machine wash most vintage wears.)
I suppose the other option is a mimeograph or some other kind of duplicator—which, while we’re talking about it, doesn’t “duplicator” just sound like an aroused superhero, superpowered by his sperm count? Anyway, I digress. I wish there was an appropriate awkward segue for this kind of thing. Just pretend there was one, OK?
One of the most interesting opening scenes in the book I am currently reading happens in a Teacher’s Lounge early in the morning before school while the teachers take turns making copies on the mimeograph. That’s what really started me thinking about my copier—well that, and the fact that on my office’s own modern(ish) copier I have been redoing hundreds of pamphlets. Back in the day when I was in school, so terribly long ago, I remember teacher’s complaining about trying to get time on the copy machine and about what a hassle making all the copies was. Here’s the thing: they had a photocopier. They didn’t even have to contend with a mimeograph/duplicator the way the teachers in this book do. For those of you not in the know: you have to hand crank the copies through one of these bad boys. There’s no press the button, walk away, come back and retrieve. There’s no stand in front of the machine and watch it for errors. Man, I really hope for our past generations sakes that class sizes were indeed smaller.
The history and engineering of the photocopier reads more like chemistry and physics than I would have thought. I never spent much time thinking how the copier came to be, just that it’s always been here (for me, at least…I assume for most of you, but I shouldn’t project, and I don’t mean like the projector copiers that predated the photocopier).
The first machine that made duplicates (besides that whole printing press movement. Pfft—I’m going to use “pfft” in everything I write for Side B from now on) was invented in 1779. I have not much of an idea of how this one worked expect that everything wound up being backwards. But, for how much people pay attention to most pass-outs, it might not matter too much. Eventually in 1937 a Bulgarian physicist started playing around with copying techniques—see, it’s all complicated science, and I think that’s all we need to know about it. In the next decade, there was a patent clerk working on inventions and research on his off-time—and no, this wasn’t Albert Einstein. Doesn’t that sound remarkably similar though? Wouldn’t you like you meet the rest of the patent clerks of the first half of last century? I wonder who’s working there now?
Anyway, this other clerk was named Chester Carlson. He was tired of making a ton of copies by hand because he had arthritis, so he invented the copier. Bam. That’s really all you need to know (if even that?). By the 50s, the Xerox machine we know and love (and sometimes despise) was starting to appear in office near you (but probably not you because you probably weren’t born, or at least not in the work force if you were born yet).
I’ve seen projections that say the photocopier is becoming obsolete (however, much slower than things like BOOKS, and at this, I weep). Really, when it comes down to it, this may be one of the few modern changes and dismissals of vintage that I’m OK with. This is for two reasons: number one, it’s just a whole lotta paper, and, two, I hate my office copy machine. As we discussed last time we met together, I’m “secretary at a non-profit” people. Sometimes my whole day is spent fixing staplers and fighting the copy machine. Me and the Xerox: we have a special relationship. It’s often not a friendly relationship. My copier gets jammed so often that saying ALL OF THE TIME is not too much of a stress to be untrue according to advertisers. It also doesn’t like to always make the right amount of copies, and it’s very particular about how much paper is in the drawer—it has to be enough, but not too much. Also, sometimes just because the copier wants to, it prints regular stuff on letterhead. Fun.
That list of complaints makes me understand why there was a lot of resistance to produce and buy copiers. However, I would much rather this situation than cranking out 1,500 pamphlets a month by hand. And given their convenience sales point, isn’t that rather strange that it was such a hard sell? People—like the beautiful, curvy ladies at Sterling Cooper (I’m really disappointed I can’t find a reason to bring up Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce into this column. Please watch MadMen if you don’t in order to get this reference)—didn’t think they needed them. Well, they had carbon paper, didn’t they? They had duplicators, didn’t they? They probably had stronger arm muscles than us anyway. However, could they imagine that eventually this ugly, beastly gray (usually, right?) machine in the corner would one day double side copy, enlarge or reduce, and even do staple outputting?! Whoa, nelly. Maybe these things are useful after all. I guess I’ll lobby to keep it around and try to get along with it and the repairman. (I don’t not get along with the repairman…I just think he needs to be told he’s Sisyphus with this piece of equipment.)
My lingering questions are ones such as these: Would I be more willing to put up with the paper jams with a smile if I knew what it was like to work in an office WITHOUT a copier? Is a PDF-friendly office really a possibility in the near future? Would I still have a job if they didn’t need someone to keep track of and replenish legal pamphlets?