You don’t need to be digital to join-in.

Yesterday word spread about the latest cute little thing to drop out of Berg‘s enviable incubators, Little Printer. Rather than paraphrase, I shall copy verbatim their description of this forthcoming product:

Connected to the Web, Little Printer has wide range of sources available to check on your behalf. We call them “publications”. Subscribe to your favourites and choose when you’d like them delivered. Right on time Little Printer gathers everything it needs to prepare a neat little personalised package, printed as soon as you press the button. You can get deliveries multiple times a day, but we find once or twice works best–like your very own morning or evening newspaper.

So many people missed the point whilst talking broadly around the idea of ‘why paper, when I’ve got it on digital’. The Washington Post assumes its for people to print and save their Tweets, BoingBoing described the output as a “little, disposable newspaper“, Wired is unconvinced “if I have a smartphone with me, I have a screen that can do all this and more”. The Huffington Post sits on the fence and invites their readers to answer “Is the concept behind ‘Little Printer’ a good idea?“. Peter Cashmore from Mashable opined “..sure is cute, but would we really use it – and read paper – every day?”

To summarise, @relativesanity blasted: “Little Printer solves a problem none of us has.”

The way I see it, this device (and its descendants) isn’t (just) for us. It’s also for the currently un-connected. Potentially, that is the biggest innovation, that’s who it’s solving a problem for. Way back in 2006 (as Russell Davies, one of the brains behind the similar Newspaper Club reminds us) Berg were talking about a connected social letterbox. Dig into that thread and you discover that HP have had this little Presto project for a while. It’s not as cute as Berg’s effort, but it’s been converting emails, photos and internet ephemera into tangible printed material for 6 years. The intention has been to provide a device to homes that don’t have a computer, allowing them to stay in touch with those who do.

To put this in to context, today I learned that the local paper where I grew up, the venerable East Kent Gazette is to close after 156 years of publication. It’s no longer making any money. People are moving online to receive hyper-local news.

But not everyone. The elderly and other unconnected residents of the EKG’s distribution area won’t know what’s going on. These are people that are both cut-off and with a fondness for the trivia of their family, friends and community. Devices like Little Printer could put us back in touch with them.

Thankfully I saw UX people saying similar things:

@johannakoll “..give to my father to send him my status updates, little sudokus, riddles and more..”

Sometimes it takes user-centric thinkers to look closer at use cases. Sure, there may be a bit of post-rationalisation going on but it’s undeniable that there’s a joy in the tangibility of printed content.

And what of us, the digital, connected people? Well it works for us too. A bit like Russell, I too am bored of screens. I spend all day in front of them, I have two smartphones that vie for my attention and the all-but inumerable apps that I’ve downloaded often mean that I go ‘in’ to my phone’s app dashboard forgetting what I went into it looking for. Little Printer will bring things closer to the context in which I’m using them; my to-do list is in my notepad, my shopping list is in my wallet my Nike run workout is in my kit bag.

My phone does too many things, having this information closer to where I use it could make it easier for me to deal with an ever-increasing stream.

Environmentally, I’m not sure I can comment with any authority. It seems at first that it’s wasteful, creating paper where there was no ‘need’. It’s been described repeatedly as ‘printing the contents of your phone‘,  which is an incredibly reductive observation

@katsamps “Not thrilled about Little Printer. I thought we were trying to move away from paper waste?”.

But paper doesn’t need to be bad does it? Sustainable printing is perfectly possible right? A drop in the ocean compared the the amount of paper wasted each day by printing ridiculously excessive email footers with legals and ‘please don’t print’ messages on them. And if saves me another screen, another charging cycle, well I don’t think we can say for sure that it’s entirely negative.

Looking beyond the obvious you can see when a design’s evolved from a mature idea born of observation and insight. Little Printer is the next step on an technology journey that will hopefully broaden the benefits of our connected world to those that can’t or don’t want to be slaves to a glowing screen.

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