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