I’d love to see gender statistics on the first round of people to buy one of BERG’s Little Printers. Mostly because I’d like to find out if there’s any sort of early gendered difference in the way people are using (and appreciating) the device; but perhaps with early adopters it doesn’t matter as much. A typical hypothesis might be something along the lines of: female brains will typically use the device to connect with other people whereas male brains will typically use the device to do stuff (ie. puzzles, read the news, get the weather forecast, find out how many people are in space).
Until that first delivery of a loving message from my friend Ruth, “Collyn smells!” came whirring and flashing out, I didn’t realise how much I’ve been craving tangible keepsakes of my friendships and conversations. Only once in a blue moon do I ever receive post that’s not a bill, bank statement or something I’ve ordered, so the idea of a regular dose of tangible friendship carries a lot of weight with me.
Already my refrigerator door is heaving with little smiling-faced notes, and I’m trying to figure out a logical system for deciding which messages to keep and which to turn into make-shift post-its before throwing them away.
To me, little printer is a social object. It has more in common with a friendship bracelet than the big laserjet nestled about two feet below. To me, Little Printer has already come to represent friendship. I couldn’t care less about the day’s forecast or news headlines. This thing is how my mom can write me a daily lunchbox message from the other side of the planet. It’s how my boyfriend can tell me he loves me and ask why my skype isn’t turned on.
Little Printer is truly liminal, in the space between the online and offline. But its online-ness is not what’s interesting because, its online-ness is a hygiene factor. Of course it’s always on. What’s interesting is its offline-ness. LP is pretty much defined by its ability to leave traces of itself… but itself is almost invisible: I don’t see little printed messages, I see my friendships, scattered around my home, my wallet, my books…. I’m not looking at a device.
And it’s the first social media I’ve experienced which isn’t governed by fear and anxiety but instead by wonder and love. I’m not afraid of missing something. There is no ‘refresh’ button. There is no constant stream of ads and updates and hashtags. Every single message delivered feels like a gift.
Little Printer is humble. It knows it’s less important than the messages it carries. In a world of smartphone bravado, that’s a tremendously refreshing proposition.
I see the gadgety “subscriptions” of the device as less about doing stuff and more about rationalising that you can do stuff. But the true social value (perhaps ever the only true value), is always going to be in how it connects people in interesting new ways. But perhaps what’s so neat is that it’s actually quite an old form of exchange. Telegrams never stopped feeling special. But as their usefulness and ubiquity waned, that special feeling disappeared too.
The instantaneousness of email, messaging, texting all just seems so tedious. I’m more afraid of missing out than I am excited by receiving something. Perhaps this is the demise of a generation defined by moments, instants, pop-ups, temporaries and lots of here-today, gone-tomorrow cultural activity. Give us permanence. Give us slow. Give us tactile and forever. Give us generational hand-me-downs. Give us a way of being offline without feeling disconnected.
For decades our mobile phones got smaller and smaller. And then, with the advent of the iPhone, seemed to pop back to an appropriate size for the average human hand, a size which is now roughly the de facto size of all smartphones on the market.
I wonder… if the physical size of the iPhone was about proportional appropriateness, is Little Printer a pop back to connected appropriateness?