Jams emerge from an elemental struggle between the natural and the mechanical. “Paper isn’t manufactured—it’s processed,” Warner said, as we ambled among the copiers in a vast Xerox showroom with Ruiz and a few other engineers. “It comes from living things—trees—which are unique, just like people are unique.” In Spain, paper is made from eucalyptus; in Kentucky, from Southern pine; in the Northwest, from Douglas fir. To transform these trees into copy paper, you must first turn them into wood chips, which are then mashed into pulp. The pulp is bleached, and run through screens and chemical processes that remove biological gunk until only water and wood fibre remain. In building-size paper mills, the fibre is sprayed onto rollers turning thirty-five miles per hour, which press it into fat cylinders of paper forty reams wide. It doesn’t take much to reverse this process. When paper gets too wet, it liquefies; when it gets too dry, it crumbles to dust.

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