Making Materiality- Printers

Printers are perhaps one of the most revolutionizing technologies that only express materiality, but also create it. Printers turn the imaginable and electronic into physical and material realities. Before the internet revolution, mass production of hand held devices, and portable computers, printers served a necessary role for mass information production and distribution. Printers made books, newspapers, and magazines available to the general population which not only spread media information and creative ideas, but also impacted legislation through copyright policies. Printers created the concept that “ideas” themselves could be “owned” because they could now be expressed in a physical form. In, “The Medium in the Massage” McLuhan comments on how physical ideas have shaped our society/environment. He says “The invention of printing did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property” (McLuhan 125). The printer’s creation of privacy- both private ownership and private experiences of such creations, served as its primary function for many years.

However, soon society develops technological advances that can arguable change the value/role of the printer. As portable electronic devices become more and more prevalent, the necessity of a printer for private experiences and a delivery method for information becomes dwindled. Any book can be purchased and read on a laptop, Nook, iPad, or even smart phone. These devices also have access to magazines, articles, and other news. These devices even become a way for creating such ideas. For example, writing essays or blogs online. Even this current post will be documented somehow within my hard drive and electronically linked to me (ownership). So why do we still use a printer? Katherine Hayles, author of Writing Machines suggests that electronic media and print media should now be viewed as equal mediums, in terms of both reliability and authentic forms of information communication. With all this said, I however still have a undeniable feeling of security and satisfaction when I print out something and have it physically in front of me. What if my computer crashes? What if the file gets corrupted? For whatever reason I cannot bring myself to trust the electrons in my computer more than a piece of paper I can hold. Printers make this security possible by allowing us to transfer something digital into a physical form. In the article “5 Reasons We Still Have A Printer” most of the reasons dealt with high security things. Boarding passes, shipping labels, invoices, etc. All things that are highly important and demand a higher level of security/ insurance that will remain a reliable artifact and source of information. Not only do printers impact our security and assurance of things, but they also impact how we experience the media that we are viewing. Hayles suggests that the materiality of a specific medium contributes to its experience. I remember back to high school when I would scramble to finish a paper in the computer lab before the first bell would ring. In a surge of triumph, I would proudly hit the “print” button and take a victory lap to the newly awakened printer which would spit out my still warm and freshly scented paper masterpiece. Picking up that warm paper, driving a staple through it, and sticking into my backpack gave the final sense of completion and pride as I would proceed to homeroom. Here, the printer not only gave me a better sense of accomplishment, but provided me with something physical that I could better attach such feelings of pride to. Hitting the “submit” button to DropBox just doesn’t live up. Since printers transform things into a physical state, it allows multiple dimensions and complexities to be made. Art can be viewed in a closer, more personal state. It can also be expressed in a 3D (ie pop up books, origami, etc). These things need to be physical to be experienced in the way they were intended to be. A printer does such, transforming the digital into the physical.


  1. Hayles, Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.
  2.  McLuhan, Marshall-Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage 2005

9 thoughts on “Making Materiality- Printers”

  1. I never thought about how unnecessary the printer might be, but you make a good point with the fact that electronic devices can be used to share ideas and read books on, making a hard copy not as useful. I too enjoy having the printed copy of my work in my hands and feel more accomplished and safe with it in front of me rather than just saved somewhere on a computer.


  2. You have made some excellent points in your post, and I completely agree with you about the satisfaction of a physical printed document. I worked in a university’s archive during my summer breaks in high school, which really proved to me the value of preserving documents. Being able to touch history through a letter or photo from the 1800’s is incredible, and I hate to believe that such archives won’t be necessary in the future. Rather than writing letters or actually printing important documents, these physical accounts of life will be just another file stashed on a hard drive.


  3. Its weird to think that something as revolutionary as the printer is now almost obsolete in our society. However like you mentioned for security and other reasons I do believe there will always be a need for the printer in our society.


  4. I agree that printers are basically kind of out of date now, and you make a good point about dropbox and submitting documents online but that just shows how technologically dependent we have become. The use of the printer to create and print memories (such as pictures) is still a very useful “medium” to archive memories and faces of friends and good times. There are also times where its easier to print something out to show someone versus pulling it up on an iPad. The old makeshift printers probably will go out of style but printers will continually evolve since they allow the user to materialize their ideas and imaginations.


  5. I completely agree with your idea. I really like your personal experience which you described. I think I have the similar experience when I wrote essays in the past–just wanna print them out and see my work in a touchable form. Intangible or tangible forms? I think many people still prefer the latter one because of some psychological consideration (“printed ones seem better when I can see them”) and security.


  6. I couldn’t agree more that having a physical copy of what I create or want to read seriously is of great importance to me. The development of the 3D printer has impressed me; making replacement organs and tissue in a laboratory is something I would have never imagined, and yet, is reality.


  7. I completely agree that the feeling of holding a research paper that you worked for weeks on end to complete in its physical form is very much more satisfying that seeing it on a computer screen. I do think that printers will become obsolete within the next 25 years or so just because of how much we as a society are completely transitioning into a digital age. One interesting innovation is that of a 3D-printed, which although is only slightly related will really change how we construct things in their physical forms.


  8. I really like that you used this topic since it relates to some of the class discussions we have been having recently. Many people are on the fence about whether they prefer electronic versions of reading or the physical paper copy. I, personally, prefer having a paper copy in hand and think the printer is a miracle.


  9. I think it’s interesting that you bring up printers as an aid to security because I recently discovered my printer’s memory drive! As I’ve yet to discover a way to delete the images it saves I’ve lost some faith in its ability to be a secure device. It’s funny the things that get overlooked by some of us.


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