Little Printer, the physical paper product the tech world has decided to care about, is available for preorder today, so anyone else who wants a device that prints the Internet on a receipt-size piece of paper can get one, too -- for $259. We're not sure you would want one of these for practical reasons. But, when British design firm BERG announced plans for what looks more like a design fetish than a useful product last November, many tech blogs gave it their approval, giving us myriad ways to meet the little guy. Even the wary were enamored by the idea. "My first knee-jerk reaction to Little Printer was bemused bewilderment--really? this?," wrote Fast Company's John Pavlus. "But it’s hard to deny [BERG CEO Matt] Webb’s point." So what exactly is that point?
What it does: Using BERG Cloud -- an actual 21st century technology -- those with the little printer can have their "subscriptions," as BERG calls it, printed out in one "timely, beautiful miniature newspaper," as the product site explains. (The video below shows how it works, exactly.) But, in short: Your favorite parts on the Internet get printed on a cute piece of paper. Someone could have their twitter feed, an Instagram photo and daily headlines printed on a slip of paper to take with them in their wallet to read on the subway, for example.
Why BERG says that's useful: It's useful from an intellectual perspective, at most, or a design perspective, at least. "It’s actually a disruptive, weird, but undeniably innovative way to liberate digital content from its screen-based prison. It’s about making "the cloud" tangible and intimate again, by bringing it into the home in a physical way," explains Pavlus. It makes information last. And, BERG suggests that physicality will make us think about the kind of stuff we want to last. "The act of printing--committing to paper--makes a statement, so you want to be sure that what you print is important," Webb explained to Pavlus. "What we concentrate on now is density of information or delight. Great publications are ones you would consult a lot over the day or want to carry with you, so it makes sense to print them." It's interesting in theory.
Why it might actually be useful: There is one aspect of the Little Printer that is intriguing from a tech perspective and that is the BERG cloud, which curates the information that ends up on the slip of paper. Webb designed it with other uses in mind. He's using it for the mini newspaper now because he finds "something so interesting about a mini newspaper," he told the Verge's Ellis Hamburger. But one day, maybe it will print out coupons for his favorite store, he suggests. (Though, coupons of the future are digital, right?) In any case, the way he built the technology, makes it easy for him to change the functionality. "Little Printer's brains are stored on the web, so updating the hardware is more akin to pushing out code to a website," explains Hamburger.
Why this doesn't make any practical sense at all: Besides for looking pretentious on the subway with your little designed slip of Internet tidbits, why not just read those things on your phone? Also, that 10-inch piece of paper doesn't give much information. It's more of a reminder list than anything else. Actually, that compact version of a newspaper is a "a haunting and borderline insulting vision for the future of printed news," as Gawker's Ryan Tate put it last November. The Internet has given information and ideas space. Little Printer takes that away, reminding us of all the sad parts about newspapers. But, watch below and decide for yourself.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.