HP: Print isn’t dying… if you change the definition of print

HP imagines the world without print

Print is dying.

For the last decade, the point has been posited by the press, reaffirmed by numbers, and seems to, today, be just generally accepted as truth by a generation of smartphone addicts. Which presents a bit of a problem for HP’s printing division.

The company attempted to address the issue head on at its 2012 Influencer Summit in Shanghai with a presentation on new research into print deprivation: Taking away print in people’s lives as a way of proving that we’re more hooked than we admit. An outside research firm conducted an experiment to see how people function without print by covering up product packaging, taking down signs, and even swiping printed tools like credit cards.

What happened? People were terrified! Aggravated! Listless! Directionless! Hopeless!

A clever way to refute the point to be sure… only nobody in their right mind seems to making this point to begin with. HP has conveniently sidestepped the argument about the impending doom of its own products – consumer printers – by defending all forms of printing, which (surprise) we can’t live without. That’s a classic straw-man argument, for you philosophy majors. (HP might have done itself a favor by hiring one to point out all the holes in this idea – most smug cocktail conversation suggests they’re looking for jobs.)

Even HP’s own film on the project can’t seem to escape this inconsistency. It opens with predictions of doom and gloom for print, showing people leafing through magazines, newspapers and textbooks, and relaying the claims that have been made about their demise. Then it proceeds to shock a small Wisconsin town by shoving wine bottles in paper bags, removing printed menus in a café, and (in a real tearjerker) taking printed pajamas away from the most adorable kid ever.

Um, is that really what that New Yorker headline meant by “print is dead?” No.

The post office might as well refute the demise of handwritten letters by taking away pens. You can’t sign forms! Can’t write grocery lists! Can’t doodle in margins! Case closed, save the post office, right?

Logic fail.

A better test might have been to take away printers to see how people lived without them, but maybe HP had a tough time finding someone who actually owned one so they could take it away.

When pressed on its apparent lapse in sanity, HP representatives couldn’t seem to find an explanation for how this research made sense, other than to point out that its “responding to the headlines” by illustrating that the term “print” applies to more than just term papers and photos. Sorry, HP, I’ll be more precise the next time I use it:

Print – the type your products produce — is still dying.