Sometimes old technology still works
I got my favorite printer, a Canon BJC 2110, in 2001, as a tie-in to my then-new Gateway PC. Much like the Gateway itself, it was beige with a gray underside.
When you turned on the BJC-2100, it wasn’t automatically ready for printing. It would make a high-pitched sound; then its cartridge would shuttle back and forth a few times. This was called “initializing.” The cartridge itself was unusual–it contained two smaller ink tanks, one black and one for colors. The one for colors “went” very quickly, was more expensive, and we learned to print in black and white except when we really needed color.
In the third or fourth year we had the BCJ-2110, it started to drag the paper toward one side or other, causing printing jams. A few times, I pulled the paper out but it merely ripped, and I had to open up the printer door and pull out little scraps of paper, one by one. I oiled it, just like the manual told me to do, but it still didn’t help. I called the computer guy and he told me, in so many words, that ink-jet printers were very cheap and weren’t worth fixing.
Reluctantly, I bit the bullet, went to Staples and bought another printer, an HP. But as I was about to hook it up, something told me to look at the Canon one last time. I opened it up, felt around inside, and pulled out a mail key that had somehow fallen in. Now, it worked fine. I assigned the HP to my new laptop instead.
When we got a new desktop a year later, I decided to keep the BJC-2110. “It’s because it doesn’t run down as fast as the computer does,” I explained to my wife. I became more and more fond of my Canon, which I nicknamed “Little Boy.” But inevitably, the printer eventually began to deteriorate. The time between pressing the “print” button and the actual printing became longer. When I opened the little door in front to change the print cartridge, the cartridge head no longer moved automatically to the center, where I could access it. I had to reach inside and move it manually. And one day, it just stopped printing entirely. I felt like a friend had died.
Sadly, I prepared to go back to Staples to get yet another printer. But as I was about to leave the house, I received another sudden illumination. I would go on eBay and see if anyone was selling a used Canon BJC-2110. I found a guy in Philadelphia, a computer programmer, who was selling one. I put in a bid, kept upping my bid to beat out the one other bidder, and won the printer. I was overjoyed.
The package came to my house a week or so later. Even before I plugged it in, my wife ran her hands over it admirably. “What I like about this printer,” she said, “is that it’s not shiny and glitzy. It looks human–it doesn’t look high-tech!” I agreed. It was also cleaner than my old one – maybe the guy had cleaned it on a regular basis, which I more than I ever did.
I had an irrational fear that the new BJC-2110 one wouldn’t work either. Maybe, I thought, the fault was with the connection with the computer rather than the printer itself. But when I connected it, it worked perfectly. I breathed a sigh of relief. Since it was identical to the older one, it would also be Little Boy.
The new Canon continued to give great service. But it was part of a tribe that was rapidly diminishing. When these machines were new, they were so common you could even buy their cartridges at the CVS drugstore. Now, even Radio Shack had stopped carrying them. You had to go to Staples, and sometimes they were out of them. Once or twice, I ordered generic cartridges through the internet, but the ink quality wasn’t as good.
In 2011, when my desktop went dead and I had to buy another one, I realized that since I had gotten the original Little Boy, Windows had gone through several editions – Millennium, XP, Vista and now Windows 7. I feared that the BJC -2110 wouldn’t work with the new computer. When I ordered a new HP Pavilion, I ordered a new printer too. I hated to part with Little Boy, so I put him under the bed. I was convinced that someday, he’d come out of retirement.
That someday came a year later, when my new printer suddenly stopped working. I made an appointment with my computer guy two weeks later, but in the meantime, I hooked up the Canon. I crossed my fingers and hoped it would work with Windows 7. Sure enough, after it connected to the software, I heard the once-familiar whirring of the initializing process. It didn’t hurt that a store that specialized in hard-to-get cartridges had opened nearby. For the next two weeks, it was just like old times with Little Boy.
The computer guy came, reinstalled the driver for the new printer and hooked it up again. I put Little Boy under the bed once more, satisfied that it had fulfilled its mission. Someday, we’ll have to buy yet another desktop and another laptop with an even newer version of Windows. And it’s only a matter of time before the new versions of Windows don’t have the driver for the Canon BJC-2110 built into them. When that sad day comes, we’ll donate the BJC-2110 to a museum of old technology.
In today’s world, you’re not supposed to respect old technology. You’re supposed to embrace only the new, think only of the present. That commercial from a few years ago where someone, carrying a DVD in one hand, throws a VHS tape in the trash with the other while smiling is a metaphor for our entire society. If you’re attached to something older, you’re considered an eccentric, like a guy who spends $20,000 a year on his 1958 DeSoto and insists on driving it in city traffic.
Well, I plead guilty. For what I have to do, printing out a few pages of text, my Canon is still as functional as the day it was made. Maybe if I had to print out a 100-page manuscript or a high-resolution photo, its slowness would be a problem. But I don’t normally do those things.
My pace, and my sympathies, lean toward the simpler “Little Boys” of this high-tech world.
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