Did You Know? – The Photocopier, Part VIII

Did You Know? – The Mimeograph, Part VII
October 14, 2022
Did You Know? – The Fax Machine, Part IX
October 16, 2022

The mimeograph was replaced by the photocopier:

[I]n 1959, Xerox released the “914”—the first easy-to-use photocopier. The culmination of more than 20 years of experimentation, it was a much cleaner, “dry” process. The copier created an electrostatic image of a document on a rotating metal drum, and used it to transfer toner—ink in a powdered format—to a piece of paper, which would then be sealed in place by heat. It was fast, cranking out a copy in as little as seven seconds. When the first desk-size, 648-pound machines were rolled out to corporate customers—some of whom had to remove doors to install these behemoths—the era of copying began.

Or more accurately, the explosion of copying began. Xerox expected customers would make about 2,000 copies a month—but users easily made 10,000 a month, and some as many as 100,000. Before the 914 machine, Americans made 20 million copies a year, but by 1966 Xerox had boosted the total to 14 billion.

Clive Thompson, How the Photocopier Changed the Way We Worked—and Played | History| Smithsonian Magazine.

In the Smithsonian’s words: “Copying was liberating and addicting.”  Some of the problems of those days seem quaint today.  Marshall McLuhan wrote that every reader could now “become an author and a publisher.”  Id. The Smithsonian article states:

White-collar workers had complained of information overload before. But the culprit was industrial processes—book publishers, newspapers. The photocopier was different. It allowed the average office drone to become an engine of overload, handing stacks of material to bewildered colleagues. “You’d have this huge pile of meeting documents,” Owen says with a laugh, “and nobody has read them.”


But, that is ancient history.  In George L. Paul & Jason R. Baron, “Information Inflation: Can the Legal System Adapt?,” 13 Rich. J.L. & Tech. 10 (2007), the authors demonstrate that writing – indeed, information itself – has changed in the digital age.  We no longer displace molecules to communicate.  Id. at *7.  We now have an “Information Ecosystem.” Id. at *9.  Paul & Baron assert that this heralds “a new phase of civilization.”  Id. at *67.  “In the original writing technology, the rate of flow of information was limited because it depended on distribution of information artifacts. With the plastic and networked nature of new age writing, we are no longer wedded to original records…. We can edit; change formats; respond; converse with twenty people at once; and even move, speak, and write in virtual worlds as an avatar.”  Id. at *10.