Gratitude for Copy Machines

dittoToday I am grateful for copy machines. I have to return comments on group projects to students today, and I don’t have to rewrite the comments for each student. I can simply copy each group member’s copy on my magical combo printer/fax machine/copier/scanner. Once, this sort of task was impossible.

I remember carbon paper, ditto machines, and mimeographs. Members of the academic generation before mine shared stories about typing their dissertations on carbon paper, and storing copies in the freezer to ensure they would survive a fire. Editing and revising under those circumstances were herculean. Carbon paper gave us the origin of the phrase carbon copy. Does anyone use that term anymore?

I remember life as a work-study student when making copies was the bulk of the work. The big mimeographs, ink everywhere, standing for hours while the drum rotated and churned out papers, the smudged papers, the sticky stencils that folded in on themselves in Mobius strips of black gunk, and the rest of the messy, messy problems.

Dittos scented my childhood all the way to graduate school — their purple ink, which has a special name, aniline purple. Analine purple is the first “synthetic organic dye,”an oxymoron to be sure. I will always associate that distinctive Ditto smell with purple. Students today have never experienced the spirit aroma of a pop quiz. I doubt I will ever smell this scent in my life again. Incidentally,  I mistakenly thought the idiom ditto came from ditto machines, but actually it actually dates back to 1625.

Early copy machines hold a similar nostalgia. Their copies lose their quality over time as whatever ink they use fades and disperses into dust.

Even though copy machines have prolonged our transition to paperless offices, I’m still grateful for them.

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