THE MACHINE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD

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THE MACHINE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD

 user 2005-12-23 at 10:38:00 am Views: 37
  • #13659

    The machine that shook the world
    (HUNGARY DEC 2005)
    For the west, photocopiers merely revolutionised office work in the 1980s, but in Hungary they stirred up political ferment.
    When
    János Kenedi arrived in New York on a scholarship in 1982, the first
    thing he was told by the writer and sociologist Zsolt Csalog was:
    “Imagine! You can photocopy as much as you want!” In the city of
    freedom, Csalog was impressed less by the skyscrapers, Harlem or the
    treasures of the Museum of Modern Arts than by the photocopiers
    scattered around the corridors of New York University. And they were
    freely available to anyone with a few cents to spare.
    In Hungary at
    the time, an ordinary citizen could access fewer than a dozen
    photocopiers, in the national libraries. These machines were strictly
    regulated. The archaic, slow machines could be used only to make copies
    of items in the library collections – and then only after these had
    been examined by the staff. A maximum of ten copies could be made on
    any one occasion, unless the user had the express permission of the
    library’s director. The machines had their own operator. Only he could
    make copies of authorised pages, and he would also re-examine the
    material before doing so.
    The turning point came in 1985, when the
    Soros Foundation and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) began the
    process of fitting out academic, cultural and higher education
    institutions with “up-to-date equipment” – or photocopiers. In that
    year, 113 institutions out of 376 that had applied were able to unveil
    plaques declaring: “The procurement of this photocopier was made
    possible by the Soros Foundation and the MTA.” The awkward phrasing
    reflects the fact that the machines, which the Foundation had obtained
    in the UK at wholesale prices, had to be bought. More importantly, they
    could be bought.
    Until then, they had been available for purchase
    only on a very restricted basis. Two years before, Gábor Vályi, the
    legendary director of the Library of Parliament, had put all his
    contacts into play to obtain one modern photocopier for each of the
    country’s larger libraries. His efforts were in vain: a senior Interior
    Ministry official reprimanded him, reminding him of the “risks to state
    security” posed by the machines.
    Photocopiers rapidly became the
    most desired piece of office equipment. It would be hard to say whether
    this was because of their utility, or because they represented a kind
    of forbidden fruit. The Soros action increased Hungary’s ‘fleet’ by 120
    in a single year, but more followed. Institutions that had not
    succeeded in their Soros bids could buy further imported models from
    the only state agency licenced to import them, if they were prepared to
    pay double the price.
    A 1984 ministerial directive had defined the
    photocopier as a “reproduction machine.” This meant that photocopiers
    were treated the same as printing presses when it came to
    manufacturing, distributing and even repairing them. The most important
    rules made it the responsibility of a company’s director to ensure the
    “secure storage and controlled and auditable use” of reproduction
    machines, and gave the police the right to check that the rules were
    applied
    .