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In the 1999 cult classic Office Space, three brave men dragged a temperamental laser printer into a field, slammed it on the ground, and beat the condemned machine with a baseball bat. That printer would never print another TPS report again. But while Peter Gibbons, Michael Bolton, and Samir Nagheenanajar won that battle, little did they realize that they were fighting an impossible war. Fate is on the side of office printers.
We've seen pagers, tape decks, LaserDiscs, CDs, MiniDiscs, boomboxes, dial-up modems, and flip phones fade into obscurity. But somehow, the office printer has held on and is showing no signs of dying. But as the immortal printer relaxes with its a conservation status of "Least Concern," a ton of contemporary technology is in clear and present danger.
The beginning of the end came when cell phones started to match the megapixel counts of dedicated camera. More megapixels don't necessarily mean better photos, but that's what everyone seems to think. Now that the cameras on smartphones routinely reach 8 MP and can capture 1080p high-def video, why would a smartphone owner ever buy a point-and-shoot? Even low quality photos look fine after the Instagram treatment. Smartphones are still gaining popularity, and it's clear that there won't be any more Kodak moments for point-and-shoots. Critically Endangered.
Remember what a groundbreaking device the iPod was? Those silhouette-on-solid-color ads with the dancing iPeople, the sterility of the futuristic white gadgetry, and the hours spent importing music from your CD collection? Well, it turns all that was a transitionary chapter in our music history. Today's smartphones handle an MP3 player's job just fine, thanks, so why carry around an extra gadget? Streaming services like Pandora and Spotify seem to gain traction everyday, made possible by constant connectivity. Dedicated audio players still have a place though, as people tend to leave their phones at home when they go out for a jog. Vulnerable.
The music industry is all but completely digital. Software is almost always downloaded from the internet. Once the Hollywood dinosaurs give instant streaming the hearty welcome it deserves, physical video discs will follow the same path. Why wait to watch and listen? Why deal with scratches and skipping? Why get up to switch movies? Why indeed. Unless 4K resolution takes off soon and the internet can't keep up with the bandwidth demands, it'll be a swift death for discs in the near future. Endangered.
Standalone GPS Units
Pre-GPS life was tough. If you deviated from the semi-legible Mapquest directions you hastily jotted down (or printed with your empty inkjet printer), the trip would become an Odyssey. Garmin, Tom Tom, Magellan, and Mio changed all that, helping millions of people navigate to their destinations on time and without unexpected detours—especially through cities with confusing traffic patterns. But as more and more cars and smartphones come with built-in GPS systems, the need for a dedicated, standalone GPS (the turn-by-turn variety—not the backpacking ones) evaporates. Vulnerable.
As a recent episode of "How I Met Your Mother" indicated, parents may immortalize their kids first words steps and words with their smartphones. The 1080p video capabilities and convenience certainly aren't doing any favors for camcorders. Of course, people who need to tape a lecture or theatrical performance will still probably use the camcorder (or video-capable camera), but the camcorder is certainly losing the home video crowd—which is vital for their prosperity. Vulnerable.
I don't know anyone under the age of 40 with a landline. That trend doesn't look so good for residential business. Since globalization has made it easier for people to move, many prefer to keep one number—their cellphone—with the area code of their home state. People and businesses that still have fixed-line telephones often use various forms of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) instead of an actual landline. We don't expect residential landlines to last much longer. Near Threatened.
To their credit, fax machines have held on way longer than anyone would have thought. But why send something to a remote printer when you can just send it via email? On those copy/fax/print machines, it seems a fair bet that the fax feature is used less than the others. Apparently fax machines are still commonly used in some industries, but around our offices, we almost always just scan and email paper documents. Near Threatened.
The clicker's future doesn't look so rosy. New smart TVs from Samsung have gesture-based controls for basic operations. Downloadable apps turn your smartphone or tablet into a TV remote. It's quite possible that we'll see a main tablet as a control station for everything. Remotes won't go away completely—not everyone has a tablet—but their relevance is declining. Near Threatened.
Remember all those colorful utopias from the early 2000s printer ads? Well this brave new world is turning out a bit differently. Printing documents in an office or at a school might be necessary, but printing at home is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Now people go to Kinko's and libraries for text documents, and internet-based services like Shutterfly or MPix for photos. Endangered.
Why Will the Office Printer Outlast All These?
Though they have never been treated with any kind of respect, the office laser printer has a wide moat keeping its demise at bay. Tablet technology might make it easy to grade papers on a tablet, but who can imagine the inflexible scholastic traditions of paper and red pen to be abandoned? Can you imagine law offices, insurance agencies, governments, and government institutions without boxes of 20lb letter paper? No. The only way we're ever going to kick our office printer habit is by prying them from the cold, dead hands from our society's institutions.
Mindless paperwork has been falling towards a "tolerable level" since the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 and the subsequent adoption of paperless technology. But the digital documents aren't a total replacement for paper, just a complement. Sometimes only paper will do.
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