In the context of 2013, buying and installing a new printer is the technological equivalent of blowing your nose. Grab a tissue. Honk. Toss.
So when my decade-old Lexmark printer ceased functioning, I assumed that replacing it would be routine.
But my inner cynic was not so easily swayed.
“Are you fucking serious? This is a computer. The concept of simple does not exist. Your computer was outdated by the time Bush began his second term. You’re up the creek without a paddle, pal.”
Shaken, I soldiered on. After all, my tech needs were very basic. All I needed was something that could faithfully duplicate whatever I had committed to Microsoft Word. I wouldn’t be demanding professional quality photo prints by remote from Angkor Wat with my iPhone.
My first choice was the HP Envy 4500. It seemed like the perfect fit between the limited abilities of my 2002 Dell Dimension 8200 and whatever I might be getting in the future. Plus, the chart on the outside of the box confirmed it was compatible with Windows XP.
But as Abbott and Costello once observed, the big print giveth, the small print taketh away.
Long story short, my computer refused to recognize the Envy 4500. This despite CD-ROMs, manufacturer web sites, downloads, workarounds and user forums. I even went under the hood and disabled things I never knew existed. All to no avail.
Of course, this warning didn’t exactly fuel my determination:
Continuing your installation of this software may impair or destabilize the correct operation of your system either immediately or in the future. Microsoft strongly recommends that you stop this installation now and contact the hardware vendor for software that has passed Windows logo testing.
So this was about logos? Couldn’t I just hire a graphics designer and have them develop one that was mutually appealing to HP and Microsoft?
I sighed. This was another item for the Does Not Compute list. A list of things that, while virtually incomprehensible to me, were facts of life in the senseless regions outside my brain.
Calls to HP’s 24/7 help desk netted only 24/7 messages that all available agents were busy, but that my call was very important to them. Of course, it wasn’t important-enough to adequately staff their call center, but that’s another story for another day.
As a HP spokesperson no doubt would have told me, it was this very lack of support that had made my HP printer so affordable. Having learned that when I push my luck it frequently pushes back, I abandoned the installation.
On returning the Envy, the twenty-somethings at the local big box store took one look at the gray in my hair and assumed the worst. They clearly took me for a moron. Or a technophobe.
Couldn’t they see I was the bastard offspring of Wozniak, Gates and Jobs? What was wrong with them? Besides, if I was a moron, would I have refused their suggestion that a tech install it for just $29.95?
Once my credit card (and my thinking) had been adjusted, I determined it must’ve been the wireless capacity that was subverting the installation. Like my computer, I needed something simpler.
My next victim was the HP 2512. It had great reviews, and looked like the Luddite-approved printer my computer was insisting upon. But after another day-off disappeared, a thought broke through the stony incomprehension of my ignorance: I needed to try another brand.
Yeah, that was it.
Armed with the kind of optimism only the truly naive can harbor, I returned to the big box store where I had purchased the 2512. I was determined to find a really basic printer.
And by basic, I mean one that only recently had been configured to work with electricity. Was there any chance Gutenberg had entered the computer printer game?
Fate led me to the Canon MG2520. It sat forlorn, a $29.95 misfit on a shelf full of machines that could do everything except your laundry. I scanned its box carefully, making sure it was a printer without ambition.
Copy, scan, print. Nothing more. Nothing less. Perfect.
I rode a wave of happy ignorance home, confident I had finally found the right printer. The third time is always the charm.
On opening the box, this seemed to be the case. For starters, the Canon didn’t require that a man with man-sized hands reach into a tiny space better-suited for a ten-year-old's to remove packing tape from pieces that, even without said tape, had all the mobility of a death row felon.
Secondly, the requisite pan-cultural sheet with illustrations depicting the actions required for set-up actually used drawings that resembled my purchase.
Even with a pool nowhere in sight, this was going swimmingly!
On and on it went, my confidence (or relief) zooming like a rocket. Any higher and I would need an oxygen mask.
I needn’t have worried.
At the point where I was to install the drivers, my computer displayed the same poor manners it had shown the two HP printers. It refused to acknowledge them. No matter how I attempted the install, it resembled an international feud at the UN.
"I beg of you. Will the secretary general please recognize the drivers from Canon?"
In a spasm of desperation no one installing a printer should ever feel, I attempted to defy Microsoft and their skull-and-crossbones message. “You want unstable? I’ll show you unstable!” I muttered as I clicked the button marked ‘Continue Anyway’.
Despite the promise of gleeful insurrection, clicking the button only returned me to the original screen and a second chance to make the “right” decision. This was a twisted and infuriating re-run of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
I could practically hear Regis Philbin. “Is that your final answer? Are you sure?”
With the discovery that Canon’s help desk was only open Monday through Friday, a household project I had been putting off suddenly seemed very appealing. As would crucifixion.
On Monday morning, a weary male voice greeted me. It wordlessly intoned “What do you want?”
After outlining my experiences to the rep, I obediently inserted the CD-ROM into the disc drive and initiated the install. “Same old thing” I smugly informed him.
In direct opposition to the manufacturer’s instructions, he had me do things. Ignore things. Defy Microsoft. Confident I could pursue legal action if my hard drive crashed, I consented.
Only this time, the rebellion was a success. The drivers had not only been installed, but my computer was acknowledging them like an honors student at a Miss Manners academy.
But I had questions. Why, despite my computer meeting the detailed system requirements listed on each of the three printers, had it been such a headache getting them to work?
The rep responded. “Sometimes, an operating system like XP will confibulate the central processing unit, causing retrofluxes in the random access memory which prevents, ugh, secondary collateral processes from initiating a world takeover.”
Or something like that.
“I see” I lied and thanked him for his time.
Twelve car trips, nine days, three models from two manufacturers and one USB cable later, I finally had a functional printer.
My streamlined and supercharged information age existence could now continue.