Friday, July 20, 2007

Disposable Printers and the Electronic Graveyard

My dad coined that term "the Electronic Graveyard" sometime in the 80's and wrote about it in the mid 90's, as a way to describe our basement... not the whole basement, but a significant portion of real estate in the basement which contained a heap of practically useless home audio, video, and "modern conveniences" such as vacuums, toasters, microwaves and other stuff that plug into the wall. For some reason, these devices were too good for the garbage, so they got a semi-permanent resting spot in the basement. In fact, after a while it almost seemed like we enjoyed the very nature of the pile and celebrated the addition of another abandoned appliance. There were only a couple of reasons why these devices would be added to the EG:
1 - It wasn't broken, it was just replaced by something better... which is why it couldn't rightly be just thrown away. So we'd place it down in the "bogey basement" (my sister's term) in hopes that one day it would somehow evolve into something more useful or be adopted by some poor soul who was more than two generations of technology behind us.

2 - It was broken. These were the items which deserved to be either fixed or thrown away.

So let me focus on these broken items (as if you had a choice of how long it takes me to get to my point). Throwing these items away just seemed wrong... first, because the item clearly still had some value - maybe 10% of it's replacement value on eBay for some hobbyist who also had a broken one and needed some parts - but this is where the "cycle of not worth it" continues - since just the effort to package the item seemed more than this broken device deserved. The other path - fixing the broken item - was deemed as a "good money after bad" approach, since the cost of even asessing the remedy would clearly be more than we'd need to spend getting a brand new one.

And finally - this is my point. I have a respectable electronic graveyard which is secular - allowing only printers onto its grounds... but it's not in my basement - it's amongst the living, in my home office. One on the floor below my desk, one on top of my kid's toy box which contains all the annoying, loud toys which we just assume they never see again (or not until they're strong enough to lift that all-in-one Epson Printer which now just feigns printing when connected). That Printer was $99 originally. It would cost $65 for someone to look at it to assess the problem (not fix it - assess it). The one on the floor, unfortunately, is a $350 large format photo printer which won't even turn on. Since I discovered that large format is not something I do at home, this printer could be replaced for about $$150 - $200.

So - now what. Two broken printers.
One thing I discovered, after about 10 months, is that they probably won't magically start working. My wife actually abandoned that approach after 4 months or so and brought home a perfectly operable $99 HP. And that raises the main question: Are printers now disposable? Are all things electronic so cheap to produce and purchase, and so non-trivial to fix, that we should just create a better infrastructure to dispose of them when they're "done"? I'm assuming there are fairly inaccessible recycling programs for electronics - but, back to the "cycle of not worth it", it would take me the better part of a month to find one... I've considered attempting my own program of launching these things into an upper orbit, but figure my neighbors wouldn't approve of the testing phase which would probably see a printer or two crashing through their roof to end up on their kitchen table due to a failed rocket booster or some such nonsense.

1 comment:

Carol said...

JRs' wife says... actually the new hp was more in the $59. or $69 range. But - oh no! - its out of paper. Damn the bad luck! Should I throw it out and get one of the $49 models that come with a hefty stack of paper already in it???