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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Indulgences, Unitaskers, and Paper Doll's Take on the Little Printer





Paper Doll
is occasionally befuddled. On the one hand, as a professional organizer, I aim to reduce clutter, streamline information and make everything more functional. On the other hand, I'm only human, and I have an eye for a particular aesthetic. If something can be described as tiny and adorable, I've been known to try to rationalize a functional purpose.

(For example, the tiny, white, rubber limousine atop my iMac was sent to me by organizing maven Jeri Dansky after I tweeted lines from Dorothy Parker's wonderful One Perfect Rose. I'm resolute that positioning it above my workspace reminds me of the the twin elements of Parker's insouciant humor and the importance of driving things forward. Right. Sure. It's just sooooo cute!)

Reading Erin Doland's Unclutterer, I sometimes find that the Wednesday Unitasker series is an exercise in forbearance for me. Things like the Hot Dog Dicer and Tummy Tub Baby Bath neither improve efficiency nor make much sense. As a professional organizer, these are the unused dust-gatherers I help my clients discard in order to create space and order. But then, there's the Retro POP Handset,



an old-fashioned phone receiver, that I crave every day, not only for its functionality (no more holding my phone in my hand -- I actually prefer neck-crooking!) but for its retro form. (To be honest, though, I prefer the cordless ThinkGeek Bluetooth version. It's not quite as authentic, but it also lessens the chance of getting the cord caught on a door handle.)

As I go about my business, I'm usually able to separate unitaskers from worthy products. For me, if it's already in the home or office, the key is always, "Do you use it?" sometimes following up with, "Really, now, how often do you use it?" A simple reality check usually suffices. However, when you don't actually own the item, the utility potential of any gadget or tchotchke may get over-exaggerated when the aesthetic appeal is high.

News alert: Sometimes wanting something outweighs needing it when we make decisions about acquisition.

All of this brings me to disclosing my own secret desire. Ever since word spread on Twitter last November regarding Little Printer, I've been of two minds: Surely, it was impractical! Certainly, I found it adorable! With each emailed press release, I breathed a sigh of relief that it was not yet on the market, so I did not need to bring rationality to the table. The day of reckoning has come. You see, Little Printer is available for pre-order.

LITTLE PRINTER, THE CONCEPT


Little Printer, from the UK's Berg Cloud is exactly that -- a little printer. The teeny box, tipped up on plastic "legs," holds a compact, ink-free thermal printer (like a miniature version of the kind fax machines used to use). It prints onto BPA-free thermal paper and is wirelessly connected to your home's web service via another tiny device, the Bridge unit, that plugs into your router. Little Printer, itself, plugs in anywhere you've got a power outlet.

When Little Printer prints, Berg's focus on graphic elements kicks in. In sharp-focus, retro black-and-white designs, Little Printer feeds out tiny "newspapers" reminiscent of half-tone lithography. Oooh, pretty.

WHAT LITTLE PRINTER PRINTS

In case you were wondering, no, Little Printer isn't for printing out those daily, ad hoc necessities like instruction sheets and directions to your next meeting. Rather, Little Printer creates mini-documents, aggregating the information you program it to curate and print, all in the width of a sales receipt and no longer than 10 inches. (Oy, you're thinking, didn't we just figure out how to get rid of the clutter of receipts?)

Once you've set up the Little Printer, push the little black button and your registration code prints out. Grab your smart phone to sign in or create an account at http://remote.bergcloud.com. Just enter the registration code and it connects Little Printer to your user account.

Next, use Berg Cloud Remote (optimized for iPhones, Android and Windows smart phones, and compatible with any HTML5-capable web browser) to program the content you want Little Printer to print. There are a growing number of printable feeds, or publications, from Berg partners -- they're basically apps, but instead of delivering content to a smart phone or iPad, the data goes to your Little Printer.

Select publications like news headlines, listings of upcoming friends' birthdays, recipes, to do lists...and you can even grant trusted friends access to send you messages via your Little Printer. Right now, publications have a decidedly UK skew, including The Guardian newspaper, BBC Worldwide, and Lanyrd, a LinkedIn-esque professional events directory. However, offerings also include popular-everywhere options from Google Tasks, Foursquare and Instagram.



Little Printer isn't just a ticker-tape of the web. That would be crazy. (Um, apparently, that's what Little Printer v1.0 did, and the creators said they found it "incredibly annoying.") Instead, it prints things like a daily puzzle you can stick in your planner to noodle over while you're waiting for an appointment, beautiful images made from woodcut and pen-and-ink designs, updates from specific Twitter feeds you mark essential to your life, and so on.

At Berg Cloud's "Hack Day" in July, staff and visitors created 73 different publications, ranging from practical, like an aggregate of local community event schedules by day, to the quirky, like Cat Grinder, that prints out photos of cats shared digitally by people in one's specific geographic area...apparently so one can go visit the cats. (GPS-located cats? And people think we tweeters are pre-occupied?!)

Publications can be scheduled to arrive at any time of day. Berg Cloud recommends arranging for several publications to arrive at once, to collate in an ideal miniature newspaper for breakfast and/or bedtime.

To get a feel of all of this in action, watch the too-cute video.


THE LOOK

OK, we've covered what it does. But if it were ugly, or boring, or not at all novel, nobody would be talking about it. Rather, Little Printer caught people's attention because it anthropomorphized the printer concept the same way Siri makes you feel like you've got a sharp little assistant living inside your phone.

The housing is constructed from glossy injection-molded plastic. A brushed steel faceplate holds the paper, creating a frame around each delivered printout. Until the next document is printed, the Little Printer frames just the edge of the paper, already printed with an adorable little face that reminds me of my beloved Fisher Price Little People classic figures from childhood. (Paper Doll assumes that's how they've suckered everyone else, too. The original Little People rocked!)

Berg Cloud's newest modification lets you pick from among four printable faces to serve as your Little Printer's personality. There's the the original you see in all the PR examples, as well as a long-haired girl, a girl with a medium-bob, and a cowlicked, bespectacled character whom I think is a boy.



THE COST

Starter kits are $259, with $30 flat shipping rates to the U.S. and Canada. Kits include the Little Printer (including paper roll), Berg Cloud Bridge, international power adapters, Ethernet cables and two rolls of replacement paper. (Berg will eventually sell paper rolls but currently recommends buying BPA-free thermal paper.)

In the UK and Europe, starter kits are priced at 199, with flat shipping of 6.50 in the UK and 15 throughout Europe.

European delivery doesn't include Andorra, the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, Mount Athos, San Marino and Vatican City. I find it ironic that little countries can't get the Little Printer.

SO, WHAT'S THE POINT?

Paper Doll always seems to be keeping feet planted in the 21st century, with a backwards glance towards the olden days whenever paper represents something with soul -- letters or personal memorabilia. But almost everyone is trying to get rid of paper. What is Berg Cloud thinking?

Matt Webb, the face (aside from Little Printer's face) of Berg Cloud, is all for social media, but seems to see paper as more intimate. He told the press, "What's great about paper is that it's made for sharing. You can scribble on a puzzle and give it to a friend, or stick birthday reminders up on the fridge for your family to see. Paper is basically a technology tailor-made for a home full of people."

The potential clutter aside, I can't entirely disagree. (And let's be honest, most clutter is behaviorally-induced and not the fault of the stuff.) If I wanted my honeybunny to remember the milk, I'd put a note on the fridge, and stick a magnet on a coupon. And I know I loved every note Paper Mommy included in my lunch bag (she even wrapped a note in the napkin when I attended my high school reunion picnic). But little paper trinkets that derive from electronic sources? Who will embrace that?

John Pavlus, writing for Fast Company, said:

I'm reserving judgment on the user experience and physical appeal of Little Printer until I can actually get my hands on one. But after the initial shock wore off, I couldn't get BERG's odd little product out of my mind. I imagined setting it on my nightstand next to my alarm clock, tearing off my little "mini-newspaper" in the morning--a much more physically satisfying interaction, perhaps, than rotely grabbing my smartphone and pecking at Twitter.

I have to admit, that was my reaction, too. I'm not much of a cook (OK, I'm not a cook at all) but I'd be intrigued by a tiny printout of a recipe I could take with me to the exotic foods store to purchase ingredients. Even though Paper Mommy is on Twitter and Facebook, I'd love to get a little paper message from her that I could carry around all day, and I bet there are a lot of Mommies and Daddies out there who travel for business but would like to be able to make sure their kids start the day with a personalized note they can take with them.

I can imagine Little Printer used in schools to give kids tangible representations of things they've learned. For example, Little Printer publishes feeds from How Many People Are In Space Right Now?, and you can envision little kids adorning their cubbies with printed factoids.

As frequent readers know, I don't have a smart phone. But even if I did, and even if I got completely accustomed to scrolling through information on a glass screen, checking something off a shopping or to do list on paper is just more satisfying. It's more tactile. It's more real.



And yet, I know I'm rationalizing. At this price point, there's no chance Paper Doll will be trying out the Little Printer any time soon, so my practical budget outweighs the appeal in terms of curiosity or aesthetics.

But that retro phone? Every girl needs her indulgences.

posted on: 8/21/2012 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper


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Discuss This Post


by dava on 8/21/2012 11:21:04 AM:

I love this post, and love knowing that Paper Doll craves something so impractical and potentially clutter-creating as the Little Printer. If I win the lottery, you're getting one!

by Chaos Undone on 8/21/2012 12:56:19 PM:

When the goal is to remove the clutter, it seems counter-productive to think of purposely printing out little pieces of paper every day. But for those of us who love the information & communication available in the electronic world but have discovered that we are actually a tactile creature... this is intriguing. And as you say, it isn't the little pieces of paper themselves that would create potential clutter, it is what is done with them after their usefulness.

by Heather on 8/21/2012 1:19:51 PM:

I have the phone -- AND I LOVE IT!!!! Worth the clutter, etc. Makes talking on cells so much easier. And the Little printer? So awesome, but I don't need to add more paper --- even though it is very awesome. I do agree with Dava, I love know Paper Doll craves these impractical things. Want me to show you the phone next time we meet up?


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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles


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