The 1999 film “Office Space” depicts the essential frustrations of cubicle life: the mundanity of the tasks, the meaningless of the work, and the existential threat of termination from a job that you hate but need. The main character, Peter Gibbons, lives an unsatisfactory life working for Initech, a large corporation with no explicit product, purpose, or contribution to society.
The initial scene presents Peter living in his own personal hell: his cubicle neighbors are loud and his boss harasses him over a trivial error. The camera cuts to Peter’s coworkers as they deal with perhaps the most excruciating life experience, an utterly irritating fiasco, a calamity with apocalyptic implications, the topic of this banal yet important article: a stubborn printer.
On four different occasions throughout the film we see Peter and his coworkers struggle to successfully use the printer and their sanity is put to the test. The printer becomes a symbol of the frustrating work environment at Initech.
Much has changed in technology since 1999. It must be hard to relate to a world of TPS reports and dinosaur computers when today’s coding jobs are thought of as creative and innovative. Nowadays, big tech corporations are not like the banal evil of Initech but are supposed bastions of free spirit and passion like Google and Facebook.
Yet, here we are 18 years later, and “Office Space” is not culturally obsolete. The film is considered a relatable cult classic, not because most people work at places like Initech, but because life and work can still be frustrating. For example, printing is still a universal aspect of life. Paperwork is the backbone of modern society; governments, corporations, and individuals rely on keeping hard copy records and the printers from the 90s eerily resemble the printers today. The madness of printing, it seems, has transcended time.
The sheer frustration of converting an online document or image into a physical print copy is common, and it's certainly well-understood at Pitzer College.
In an online survey conducted by TSL, students were simply asked, “Do you think it is easy to print at Pitzer?” Of the 77 respondents, 82 percent of students found it difficult to print at Pitzer.
Respondents were also given the opportunity to freely expand on their thoughts of the printing system. Many expressed concerns regarding the reliability of the printers in the residence halls, saying such printers are often out of paper, have no ink, or do not work at all. A number of students noted their dissatisfaction with the fact that printing costs money at a school with tuition nearing $70,000.
One respondent put it simply: “Printing at Pitzer is the greatest nightmare known to humankind.”
Excluding the computer lab in Bernard Hall, there are nine printers always available for public use. These printers are often unreliable and faulty, and even if they are working at all, they are often not well stocked and low on ink. Students often find themselves traversing campus to the computer lab, the only reliable place to print documents.
The printing process requires each student to first log into the school’s desktop computer, a rather frustrating step given that almost every student does their work on their own personal computer. Because students cannot connect their laptops directly to the printers, they must endure the glacial process of first logging into the school’s desktop computers.
Printing is also a costly endeavour. Each student has a $15 print credit at the beginning of the semester. Each page costs $0.05, which gives each student 300 free pages for the semester. While 300 pages may be enough for a semester (it often is not), the concept that printing costs money is absurd considering both that professors consistently assign supplementary readings online and Pitzer’s tuition is over $65,000. Students are taxed for a mundane task that is required for their classes.
A professor who assigns 20 pages of reading and requires their students to bring the assignment to class is virtually asking each student to take a $1 bill from their wallet, light a match, and watch that dollar burn into the atmosphere.
Given the exasperating printer system, students might be better off pooling money to buy their own printer, ink, and paper and print directly from their room. It would save them a walk to the computer lab, as well as a lot of stress and grief.
Three simple changes would make printing significantly better. First, abolish the print credit system. Second, strive to better maintain the printers across campus. And third, upgrade the systems to allow students the convenience of printing from their personal computers.
In “Office Space,” after being fired from their jobs, the three main characters steal the printer from their office, take it to an empty field, and bring a violent revenge upon the machine. If the flaws in the printing system at Pitzer persist, the college should hope its students do not do the same.