As a technology that’s been around for more than a thousand years, you might think that the time of printers is well over. As we move into a digital age, more and more of our day is spent in front of a screen, from our mobile phones to our computers and TVs. Even physical books are becoming as rare as physical bookshops these days, with digital options like Kindle becoming cheaper and ever more enticing. Why waste valuable space on bookshelves for books when you can keep hundreds more in a digital library?
Keeping a printer in good nick by replacing used HP 61 ink cartridges is expensive and, by this point, hardly seems worthwhile. School assignments can be submitted online, and no one brings paper and pen notes to university lectures anymore. Where does ancient printing technology fit in, in this day and age?
If printers aren’t relevant on Earth anymore, they’re still relevant up in space. The International Space Station asked for a printer upgrade in 2017 and they got a specially designed glass-free, fire-retardant printer that functions in zero gravity. The astronauts up there use digital technology too – but there are still some things that they need physical copies of, for safety reasons. After all, it’s a little tough to figure out how to fix a black-out if the information you need is on a computer which you can no longer turn on.
It’s still cheaper (for now) to hang a printed picture on your wall, than to install a digital screen that can sort through several images of your choice, like computer screensavers of old. Most artists still prefer physical copies of their work, and even digital artists offer high-quality physical prints. The fact is, people just like to see colourful pictures and artwork. It can be difficult and expensive to surround oneself with all the beautiful things you want to see – especially if those things include canyons or reefs – so pictures and photos are the next best thing. Colour printing is just one reason that print has managed to thrive in the digital age.
Better for Backup
There are some things that will never be exclusively digital. Safety manuals aren’t just vital for astronauts; firefighters, doctors, and all manner of trade worker still require physical copies of important instructions and safety procedures. For a marine biologist at sea, technology may shape the research strategy, but after a big storm damages the boat’s systems, the backup information on repairs and navigation will be found in paper manuals.
You’d never notice in a big city, but there are still places in the world where the wifi will drop out, and your digital devices will suddenly lose a good chunk of their relevance. Especially when travelling across large distances, via train or plane, digital is still limited by battery life, and the storage cloud isn’t accessible without the internet. Life-and-death situations aren’t the only times that print is useful – a long plane trip will be extremely dull without a book to read.
Even as digital technology develops in leaps and strides, printers continue to reach new levels of innovation. Regardless of purpose and necessity, the fact is that some people still just prefer print over digital. Maybe it’s more convenient to read a kindle on a train, but others would rather lugg their hardcover books around. If it’s just about personal preference, then print will be around for a long time yet.