Thursday, January 31, 2013

Old Technology Never Dies – Carbon Paper Lives

Reports of Its Death by Xerox Machine were Greatly Exaggerated

This post is being written on a computer whose operating system is Window XP.  XP is so many version behind the current Windows operating systems that the author is not quite sure how many new versions there have been.  The old technology lives (primarily because it is good enough for what is needed, and quite frankly the newer versions of Windows are must creative time wasters, but that’s another Post).

The ability of old technology to survive is one of the more amazing aspects of modern life. And now comes word that carbon paper is still around and still being used.  This is astounding.  Carbon paper’s fame reached its pinnacle when it was used as a reason why company after company did not pursue the copy technology that ultimately became the Xerox company.  The reasoning of those who rejected making copiers, the world had carbon paper that made copies for less than a penny apiece.  What else was needed?

Carbon paper—a stalwart of office life for two centuries, the ally of dissidents and the smudger of countless fingers and clothes—now seems as antiquated as the countess’s love letters. The last makers of manual typewriters, Godrej and Boyce in India, stopped production in 2009. As the keys that once imprinted up to five blurred copies fall silent, the thin films that pioneered duplication seem destined for the bin.

Well Xerox copying and its descendents are now ubiquitous, and carbon paper is the stuff of business museums.  Or maybe not.

New York cops occasionally use carbon paper for evidence vouchers (using $1m-worth of new typewriters bought in 2008). A firm called Swintec supplies prisons in 44 American states with around 5,000 electronic typewriters annually (made with transparent plastic to hamper smugglers). Inmates must use carbon paper: the jails like copies of all outgoing post. Jim Gordon of Form-Mate, Canada’s last carbon-paper maker, recalls prisons’ “desperate” appeals after other suppliers went bust. . . .

In Britain Barclays, a bank, still provides carbon paper in its customers’ business deposit books; and a few fogeyish Post Office branches use it for some receipts (for passports, for example). But other uses are odder still. Pigeon fanciers use it to log racing times in specially designed clocks. A blue, film-coated version checks the height of dental fillings; a heavy-duty black sort helps guide stonemasons’ chisels. Mr Murphy sells 40,000 sheets of red carbon paper every year to potters: it transfers drawings onto clay (when fired, the pigments vanish).

There is a point here, that the ultimate and complete demise of many technologies just does not happen.  And the carbon paper story should be of some comfort to those who have a Polaroid camera still in the attic, or a slide projector sitting dustily in the closet.  Hang on folks.

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