Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Photocopying, Communism and you...

I don’t even know if Xerox make photocopiers any more, I’m sure they do, but once they were synonymous with the process: “Can you Xerox me two copies of this, please?” I can’t recall seeing a Xerox machine in decades; our Xerox is a Minolta. Anyway, I did a load of photocopying this morning and as I did I observed how much like communism it all was. Bear with me...

You see, the system is supposed to work like this: I want photocopies done, I let the office girls know (this isn’t sexism, it’s just that all our clerical staff are female – so shoot us) and they produce the copies. The trouble is though, that I may have varying needs – 6 of that piece, 20 of another, this one double-sided, this one in booklet form, this set stapled, this lot in plastic wallets, colour/no colour, enlarged, shrunk... the permutations are, if not endless, considerable. It can take me longer to explain what I want than to just do it myself.

So, I come in early to hog the communal facilities for myself. Egalitarianism yes, but on a first-come, first served-basis. We all have equal access to the two smart machines, but some manage to make their access more equal than others. (I also know the keycode for full colour copying, but don’t tell anybody about that.) Of course, the machine is out of paper, so I go in search and discover the last box in the store room, load up a pack and stash another pack in my office drawer because I know I need a load doing tomorrow and we may run out. In this I only practice what everybody else does.

You see, the company is the politburo and they make the rules and the rules are that they provide everything we need. But nobody is in express charge of ordering photocopy paper, so it only gets ordered when it runs out. The reason this doesn’t cause mass panic is because everybody notices the shortage, informs the office of the need, but has little faith in the ability to deliver on time, so hoards resources for their own use until such time as normal supplies return.

It’s the same with company logo mugs, which we get through at an alarming rate, dry-wipe markers, board rubbers, pens, staples, paper clips, etc, etc, etc. A secret little barter economy operates in parallel with the official supply routes and everybody is more or less happy. We’ve all learned that to rely on the company to always be there is to be naively in thrall to a system that relies on a level of communication and understanding that is somewhat less than perfect and like all overloaded systems, occasionally fails altogether.

Replicate! Replicate!

So, we play the dutiful employees and sing the company song. We wear the uniform and bear the logo on our chests while all the time playing our own little game of every man for himself. Occasionally we have meetings at which we all faithfully agree to do all the right things and share wat we have, but we then go back to doing everything exactly as before. Not because we don’t care about doing our jobs well, but because we do. To entirely trust other humans to whom we are not related is a folly and to believe otherwise is to entirely misjudge the competence of humanity.


  1. Xerox are still going stong. The Xerox statement has gone away now as it is print this and copy that but we still have Xerox MFDs in all our buildings.
    MFDs Multi Function Devices. Network printers, photocopiers, scanners and FAxs

  2. I remember the first Xerox copier being installed in our office. You needed a signature from your boss and the factory director to be able to get copies done (it had its own operator who was the FD's secretary and even more scary than he was). Anything over three copies was done on the mimeograph.