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Peterson: Copiers admired, but compete trust not collated

Published: Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 12:20 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 12:23 a.m. CDT

The copy machine at work is a true testament to the ingenuity of our species. And I can’t begin to tell you how it works, but each time I watch it, I am amazed.

It all happens so fast that I can hardly keep up with it. You feed a paper in and almost instantaneously a copy is spit out. And this isn’t that fancy of a copy machine. It’s perfect for a small office.

The most I feed into it is a 50-page document that needs to print on both sides, and somehow it does it, which takes a little longer than instantaneously. But you hit the print-on-both-sides button, and the machine knows enough to pull that paper through twice, somehow flipping the paper over to get the backside, before spitting it out.

I watch the process the whole time because I do not trust the machine to print every page and because the machine has a tendency to jam. But usually it works like a champ. But not so much so that I can completely trust it. It’s a machine after all, with no conscience. It just does.

Xerox was the forerunner in copy machines. That’s what Daniel Ellsberg used 45 years ago to print the Pentagon Papers that exposed the real history of the Vietnam War. And for the longest time, when someone said they wanted a copy of a document, they would ask for a Xerox. Over the years, Xerox lost firm grasp of the copier market, and people stopped asking for Xeroxes, but simply copies.

I was first introduced to copying machines in grade school when teachers would print out multiple copies of the assignment with a machine called the mimeograph. It printed in a bluish-purple. When I was in eighth grade at St. Augustine Catholic School in South St. Paul, Minnesota, I was on the newspaper staff of the Cliffside News, and my first stories were printed on a mimeograph, and I still have them in a box somewhere in the garage attic.

The mimeograph continued through high school as the copier of choice, as there were no other choices. Our newspaper then was not printed on a mimeograph, but was typed on 8½-by-11 paper and tacked to the bulletin board outside the lunchroom for the latest edition of the Hawk Squawk.

It hardly provided the satisfaction of your own personal copy of the Hawk Squawk, which would have been a mimeograph, but that was too expensive and time consuming. So people would gather around the bulletin board to see what scurrilous diatribes I had written against the student council, or the track coach, or school lunches, or the administration.

While people couldn’t carry copies of the mimeographed Hawk Squawk, there was a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing people gathered four or five deep to see what rantings I was up to. It was effective.

By the time college rolled around, Xerox machines were commonplace, and they were indispensable for writing papers for class by copying key passages out of books in the library. It beat note-taking, but the machines were bulky and slow, and the Xeroxes weren’t the greatest quality.

Over time they improved significantly. They would print on both sides, collate, staple documents together and print in vivid color. The copies look as real as the original, so much to the point that unless you have handwriting on the original, you can’t tell one from the other.

But the copy machine at work is a wonder to watch. Somehow it is able to position the original on the glass copying plate, flash a light at it, send the paper on its way to print the other side, flash and spit it out. And this is after feeding fresh paper to the glass plate, covering a distance of two feet.

This 50-page document I print is for a class I facilitate, and for a number of sessions of the class, a few certain pages in the middle of it were out of sequence. I would get everyone back on the same page in class, and I would blame the copy machine for having a mind of its own.

Then I decided to look at my template, leafing through it to the pages in question, just to see. And what did I see? Somehow I – or the copy machine – had gotten the pages out of order. I quickly put the pages in proper order, and I haven’t had a problem since.

I haven’t progressed to the point where I make multiple copies of my 50-page document at once. I feed it through one set at a time. I’m afraid it will separate the 50 pages so that I will have to reassemble the five or 10 copies I print one page at a time, and that would take forever, which is more realistically, a very long time.

But I need to trust it. The copy machine is a wonder, and I have to stop wondering.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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