In 1975, I worked in the mail room as my second job at Head Ski in Boulder. What that meant was putting up with Agnes (shudder) who filled a rubbing alcohol bottle with vodka and thought I was after her job (I wasn’t), sorting the mail for the various departments in the plant and delivering it (with Agnes), sending TWX and making Xerox copies. Making photocopies in 1975 was seriously serious, and I had to be trained by some reps from Xerox. Agnes didn’t want to touch that thing. It scared her.

Xerox copies were expensive — 5 cents a page — so only certain things could be Xeroxed (yeah, it was a verb). and only one person could touch the machine. Me. Agnes didn’t like that I had this “power,” but she’d refused to be trained “on The Machine”. In the pre-desktop computer era we used typewriters, and for non-Xerox copies we used carbon paper. No color copying, either.

One day, when Agnes had given me the task of cleaning up the mailroom, I found a small offset press. It would fit on a TV tray (since we’re in the Wabac machine). I asked Agnes about it and she said they got it for her to make copies but she didn’t like it.

It hadn’t been touched in a while. I lifted it and brought it up to the front where there was some light. Since Agnes wouldn’t let me do anything, I started cleaning it up and I managed to get it running. The original idea behind the little press was that it would save the company money they might otherwise spend on having memo head and other non-fancy logoed paper printed professionally. It had aluminum masters and worked pretty much like a mimeograph machine. I thought it was cool.

Pretty soon the company had installed a ventilating hood for the little press and had gotten me a filtered face mask. We were a factory, after all, and people’s minds worked that way. It was necessary because the main solvent for the press was ether. My reward for saving the company all this money was a very nice dinner in Boulder’s best restaurant and, a little later, a promotion out of the mail room and away from Agnes.

Later, living a completely different life in a different city with an incredible amount of water under the bridge (but only five years later), the photocopy machine was already a big important part of life on this planet, but not very dependable and still expensive. I was a paralegal. It was still before desktop computers. Carbon paper still sat in my desk drawer. The gigantic Xerox machine could collate but it could also jam and it frequently jammed in the process of collating a shitload of pages. We were absolutely NOT allowed to unjam the machine. A specialist was called, a little guy in a dark suit with a briefcase that actually held tools. But a workman doesn’t want to march down 17th street (Wall Street of the West) in Denver looking like a mechanic. Plenty did (and do) but not your Xerox guy.

Because NOTHING ever happened at the law firm except at the last minute, we “girls” (think the movie Nine to Five) stood in a corner hoping hoping hoping hoping that things were not terminally fucked because those pleadings had to be in court YESTERDAY. These time crunches were never the lawyer’s fault, either (actually, they were). They were our fault, so we did what humans have probably done since my Refuge was a lake — we blamed the machine.

But it wasn’t the machine. It was a combination of things. About that time stores where you could take your copying needs were opening everywhere, and my predecessor at the law firm left the job to run a Kinkos. That became a back up for the many, many times “The Machine” (read that in a hushed voice) was down. Kinkos hung around for decades. I just asked the AI (which is Google) what happened to Kinkos and learned, “In February 2004, FedEx bought Kinko’s for $2.4 billion, which then became known as FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print Centers.”

One thing I took away from life at the law firm was do your stuff ahead of time because stuff happens. I’ve finished and submitted my article on the crane festival 3 weeks ahead of my deadline because you never know; the copy machine might jam.

I have a photocopy of a letter my grandfather wrote which is a true PHOTOcopy. It’s faded and pinkish and strange and was made in the sixties. The featured photo is very like — and might be exactly like — the Xerox machine in the mailroom at Head Ski.

As for AI — my research has been a lot of fun. I don’t think it’s anything for anyone to be afraid of, in any case, fear never made anyone a master. We’ve been living with it for a while. My ONE concern was what some of its features and offerings might do to education, and I no longer think there’s necessarily any danger. Like any tool, it depends on the user. People have been murdered with screw drivers, but in a normal reality is there much that is MORE inert than a screw driver? All of us using WP are using AI. It’s how we get those suggestions at the bottom of a blog we just read or the prompts that are now appearing unless we’ve told the AI we don’t want them?

Lots of comments have referenced Philip K. Dick whose work I love — but of all his work my favorite is Galactic Pot Healer which is a story of how a man repaired the Inexplicable (aka God) using a technique similar to that used in Japan to repair broken old pots with gold. You can read it here.

24 thoughts on “Copying???

  1. After your recent posts on AI, I have noticed a few on other fora. One good one I noticed was an announcement for a cancelled train but written in the style off the Book of Revelation! 🙄😉

  2. Wow! I remember those days. I used a Xerox machine to fix typos by correcting the original using White Out and then making a copy where it wouldn’t show. The Nesmith financial empire made a lot of money off me.

    I’d sneak it in after everyone else was gone because I wasn’t authorized to make copies or have someone else make a copy for me. I wasn’t the only one. I noticed a lot of work that looked like resumes in the trash.

  3. The Xerox machine was a big technological leap over its predecessor, the Thermofax, which required special paper. My favorite was the Ditto machine because I liked the smell of fresh copies. (It was alcohol-based and printed in purple.)

  4. My mother was a first grade teacher. As soon as I was old enough, she would have me cranking the mimeograph machine to make stacks and stacks of copies of handouts for her students… They smelled strange and as I got older she would have me change the masters and I’d work on my own. By the time I was in college it was obsolete and a useless skill. We were all very amazed when one of the girls down the hall got an electric typewriter for Christmas. The next year my roommate got an electric typewriter that would self correct (it was a pain and sometimes didn’t work very well)! Yet it was loads better than using “liquid paper” and then trying to like the document up just so…

    • Oh I loved my Smith Corona self correct. I didn’t see why I’d want a computer until my neighbor loaned me his Mac (an early one — it was 1985) while he was out of the country and that was it.

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