Friday, September 21, 2012

The weakest link

Yesterday my wife and I stopped for lunch at a new restaurant. We both ordered something simple - just soup and salad. At least 30 minutes later, we finally got our meal. About halfway through our wait, our server came to our table and told us the salad was ready but she was still waiting on the soup. Later the manager came to our table and apologized for the delay, telling us our meal would be on the house. What was the reason for the delay? The printer wasn't working, he said.

The printer? Why would a malfunctioning printer delay a restaurant order? And why, if the salads were ready 15 minutes earlier, weren't they brought out while we still waited for the soup? We didn't ask those questions, of course. You don't argue about a free lunch.

Later I stopped in to have my car serviced. The man at the service desk had trouble getting his computer to print out an estimate for me to sign.

My wife mentioned that her recent purchase at an auto parts store was delayed because their printer was down.

Computers are wonderful things, and virtually every business now depends on them to get things done. They don't really save on paper usage, however, because every computer is hooked up to a printer, which seems to malfunction a good portion of the time. When they're working, those printers churn out an amazing amount of paper, much of which goes directly into the trash.

Purchase a pack of gum at the pharmacy and you will be given a long receipt that reports the store information, the purchase information, the date, the amount ( if any) you saved on your purchase, the amount you've saved by shopping at that store this year, a number to call to report on your shopping experience and possibly win a prize and a variety of coupons and discounts for future shopping. The store probably has a big trash can near their door where you can deposit that long receipt. And if that printer isn't working or needs paper, you will have to wait in the checkout line until the situation is corrected.

Even home computers are dependent on the printers they are hooked up to. I have one of those printers that has five ink cartridges - three colors and two blacks. It seems that almost every time I need it for something important, one of those cartridges needs to be replaced. Or the printer is jammed. Or it's out of paper.

At the newspaper where I used to work, we did our writing and editing on a computer system, yet reporters usually wanted a hard copy of their stories and copy editors wanted page proofs to find and mark errors. That meant we were all dependent on a single printer, which too often was out of paper or out of toner or worse.

I wonder how many of the manhours saved by computers are then lost by printers.

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