There’s been a pretty predictable response to Berg’s announcement of “Little Printer,” a new web-connected “social” printer on which you can print out a tickertape of your friends’ whereabouts, quizzes for your morning commute, etc. Half the world seems to be totally enchanted by it, going bananas over the printer’s potential; the other half couldn’t be more disparaging, scoffing at its inanity. All in all, not a bad day’s work for a product no one’s actually seen or used yet.
Me? I’m somewhat torn. I love the look of the graphic design on the printed paper, and I love the idea of trying to add a physical dimension to some of the virtual social interactions we’ve become accustomed to online. But I can’t help but wonder if Little Printer will turn out to be this year’s Chumby, a useless novelty toy for rich people to buy and play with for a few moments before they get bored and put it in another landfill.
But here’s the real rub. Even as I have grave reservations about the addition of another object that churns out ink and paper into our already resource-strained universe, there’s really no reason Berg shouldn’t try to capitalize on the growing interest in technology-driven design. We don’t criticize HP for designing another printer; why should we get all uppity that a small design firm in London is throwing its hat into the ring? That’s why I think that what truly depresses me about this kind of product—and the completely overblown furore that it sparks—is what it says about our wider culture, at least in the developed world. I’ve made this point before, but until there is a fundamental shift in how we think about what we create, own, buy and have to have—and how we manage the systems in place to supply them—we can talk all about our commitment to innovation, to good design, to building a more equitable, sustainable or just world ‘til we’re blue in the face. None of it changes the reality that we’re simply continuing to trip down the path to mutual destruction and guaranteeing a horrible time for our descendants.