There is still one device that mankind fails to conquer, writes Joe Hildebrand.
There is still one device that mankind fails to conquer, writes Joe Hildebrand.

The home device that continues to baffle mankind

IT IS often said that we are living in an age of enlightenment - of technological marvels and unprecedented social progress.

After all, we have put a man on the moon, connected every person on the planet and can save lives with surgery conducted through a hole the size of a baby pea. And still there is one frontier that even the greatest minds are yet to conquer.

I speak, of course, of the computer printer, a device that has broken the spirit of every suburban man and the hearts of the women who love them.

While the science is still sketchy, I would wager my firstborn child that in every second household of middle Australia the printer is broken, out of paper or - much like the man of the house - mysteriously disconnected.

Indeed, there is nothing quite so dispiriting to the modern hunter-gatherer as the knowledge that human beings have been successfully putting things on paper for well over 2000 years, and yet suddenly around the 1980s it all became too hard.

It is also unfathomable that using a computer has become so easy even my mother can almost do it, but the minute you press Control+P you're suddenly drowning in a sea of exclamation marks. In the case of an emergency (such as an urgent need to critique my parenting style), my mother is capable of sending an email halfway across the world.

Yet sending a document to a device two metres away is a feat that eludes boths of us.

And then, of course, there's the ink.

It is cheaper to fund the sleeve tatts of the entire Queensland Origin team than it is to print out a tax return. And can someone please tell me why every computer in the world is run by either Windows or Mac but it's vitally important that there are 800 different types of printer cartridges?

I went to an ink store and counted the number of different cartridges for my printer's brand, because that is the sort of quality journalist that I am. There were 53 of them.


Remember the early days? How naive we were.
Remember the early days? How naive we were.

Surely if we are capable of sending a spaceship 7.8 billion kilometres to look for life on the moons of Saturn, we can figure out the best plastic cube to hold half a shot of black liquid.

This question dawned on me the other weekend when, after 12 hours of trying to fix my printer, I was on the verge of sending it into space as well.

I opened it, I closed it, I turned it off and on again. And then I realised I was all out of ideas. So I ended up delving into the endless miasma of tech forums, sifting through posts by people with names like @ThunderLord76, until I found a complex set of instructions that involved logging into some obscure webpage and rerouting the IP address, or something. Apparently the HP OfficeJet was designed by Edward Snowden.

But somehow, whatever I did worked. Like the great hunters of old I had caught my prey. Sure, no woolly mammoths were involved, however I have little doubt that many of the people I was dealing with were large and hairy.

Meanwhile, my four-year-old son had just stolen my phone and was happily downloading ABBA's Greatest Hits. And that was when my enlightenment truly began: it wasn't the technology that was obsolete, it was me.

- This article originally appeared in Stellar and is reproduced here with permission.

- Stellar is available in today's News Corp's Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Herald Sun and Sunday Mail. For more information visit the website.