Technology Twists : Friend of the Printer

Sometimes technology has very unexpected and surprising side effects. Not sure what I’m on about? OK, let me relate to you a real-life recent example.

We all love Printers … but they run out of toner or ink, and until you order more, your need to render your beloved electronic text into flat-dead-tree format is totally stuffed. This is a universal truth and applies just as much to large corporations. Ah but hang on a moment, the mega corporations are often staffed with lots of smart folks who try to handle this scenario because in that context its not just a frustrating personal delay, its a business outage that eats into potential profit.

Now, normally what happens in the corporate context is that some kind soul will do the right thing, log into an internal company-wide ordering system and place an order for the depleted resource, then a few days its back up and happily eating more trees. This is just what happened, but the smart techies had been in and so something a little bit surprising happened because they had decided to leverage this very normal human response (without telling anybody).

So what exactly was changed? Well in in this specific instance, somebody somewhere (God knows who) decided that it would be smart to automate the entire process, so they wired up all the printers to interface to an iNeed ordering system and have each printer automatically order toner whenever it ran low. The theory is great, just as you run out, it magically arrives, and so you don’t loose a week of printing joy. Ah but hang on a moment, who should they choose for this toner to be dispatched to … or for that matter, how do they even know where to dispatch to? Easy, the last person who orders is obviously the right contact, so you just automagically dispatch to them (whoever they are). For any printers with no contact, nothing happens until somebody makes an order, and “bingo”, from that moment, whoever that was has just self-selected themselves as the printer’s buddy for life.

Now when I say life, I mean life, because whoever set all this up, totally automated it and cut all human interfaces out, so there is no way to turn it off. Thereafter, regardless of where they are located, these self-selected victims will forever after start receiving a regular supply of toner cartridges. And as they start to move up the corporate ladder and relocate to different offices, these fracking toner cartridges will be automatically forwarded. This is not theory, its happening now. Just had somebody complain that they have received a toner cartridge and they had no idea why. A couple of questions soon confirmed they had manually ordered one a few months ago. I’m not quite sure how to break the news that they are now tagged for life, because unless they are prepared to take a axe to the printer, then then have no way of shutting off this endless supply of toner cartridges.

For the record, the axe option would be a career decision.

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