Don Gale: Why the masters of Silicon Valley are so rich

For want of a printhead, my whole computer was lost.

(Michel Euler | AP file photo) This April 12, 2016, photo shows the Microsoft logo in Issy-les-Moulineaux, outside Paris, France.

I bought a new printer. I didn’t need a new printer. I didn’t want a new printer. I was happy with my old printer. But the reliable old printer refused to be relied upon. The tiny printer screen said the printhead was “missing.” It was not missing the day before, but it apparently disappeared overnight. Mice?

I googled “printhead " to find out what it was and why it was missing. Turns out it wasn’t missing at all, just hiding. Detailed instructions told me how to find the printhead and how to clean it. I could not print the instructions, and so I had to write them down. I followed instructions carefully, cleaning the missing gadget in the kitchen sink – now a very colorful sink. I returned the sparkling clean printhead to its place. It didn’t work. The printer screen said the printhead was still missing.

The next option was to buy a new printhead. I checked Amazon, only to learn that a printhead — about the size of two baby fists — cost almost as much as a new printer — about the size of two babies. (If the printer were an automobile, a new car would cost less than a replacement water pump.)

As I am an IT klutz, it made sense to buy a new printer rather than trust my ability to install a replacement printhead. And so I bought the new printer. It came in a big box filled with styrofoam — just what the landfill needs. (The discarded printer will probably make its way to the landfill, too, since I would rather bury its rare-earth metals here than have them shipped overseas to contaminate a village of poor children in Southeast Asia.)

Common sense dictates that I should be able to unplug the old printer and plug in the new one. Any child could do it. Unfortunately, I am not a child. Besides, this is the 21st century, a century driven by binary confusion. Unhooking my old printer and hooking up the new one required an hour or two. It seemed ready to go. I sat down to write another book chapter. Alas, warned my computer, the new printer could not talk to my computer unless I installed a new printer “driver.” (I mistakenly thought I was the driver.)

I looked in the big box for a disc or something labeled “driver.” No driver. But one-page instructions said I could download a driver from the internet. Not so! My work computer is not connected to the internet. (I have a second computer for that purpose.)

I spent another hour connecting my primary computer to the internet – temporarily, I thought.

I pushed the right buttons to download the driver. Sorry, shouted the computer monitor, your operating system is not compatible with the new printer driver. (I don’t use four-letter curses, but on that occasion I came close.) Why had I not heard about this incompatibility from the sales person, or from the box, or from the card-sized instructions?

In desperation, I called a neighborhood teenager.

“What are my options?” I asked. “Since they don’t make the old printer any more,” he said, “and since your old computer is not compatible with newer operating systems, you will have to buy a new computer to operate your new printer.”

“Does that mean I will also have to buy new programs for word processing, photo editing, movie making, and son on?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “And since your programs are expensive, it will probably cost you at least 10 times the price of the new printer.”

I also had four expensive ink cartridges I bought for the old printer only a few weeks ago. They won’t work in the new printer — or in anything else, for that matter.

Add the price of my time, and this new printer will cost about 100 times the sticker price. Thanks, HP! It would have been cheaper to retire and go on a cruise. (COVID-19 says I can’t do that, either.)

Forty years ago, I bought one of the first computers in Salt Lake – a clunky TRS-80. That was when Bill Gates was still sluffing college classes. Over the years, and through repeated forced purchases from Microsoft, I helped Gates become the richest man in the world. Thousands of his high tech buddies have become fabulously wealthy “one percenters” – the fortunate 1% of Americans who own 90% of the wealth.

No wonder the middle class has trouble: One-percenters in Silicon Valley have us by the printheads.

Don Gale.

Don Gale, a longtime Utah journalist, has somehow muddled through the tyranny of technology for 40 years, composing several million words (none of them the four-letter type).