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Copying is the process of duplicating an object or a collection of information, without using the same process that created the original instance of that object or information. Simply put, it’s a specialized way of making duplicates of something. When the original item to be copied is analog, like a piece of printed paper, a copy is never quite perfect. A certain degree of deterioration will always occur. Although the deterioration can be limited by high-quality equipment and a skilled operator, it can not be avoided entirely. The changes may be minuscule at first, but the effect is cumulative: the copy will have more deterioration than the original, and the copy of a copy will have yet more deterioration – and so on and so forth. The degradation of analog material is amplified through additional generations of copying.
Digital artifacts, on the other hand, do not suffer from this deterioration. Each successive copy is identical to the original. You can think about this in terms of copying and pasting on a computer. Imagine that you select a block of text, copy it, and then paste it anywhere you want. You can do this an infinite number of times, and the text will always be exactly the same as when you started.
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There are a host of reasons that an office or place of business finds themselves in need of copies. Businesses may need to keep copies of transactions and outgoing correspondences for their records. Oftentimes, they need copies of a letter or memo to circulate among many employees or clients.
In the past, the only way to have multiple copies of a document was to write them out by hand. This was largely the case well into the 19th century. To create these handwritten copies, offices hired copy clerks, sometimes called scribes, copyists or scriveners.
To achieve the highest level of accuracy, most digital copying techniques are based on the principle that there is only one possible interpretation for each unit of data and, conversely, there is only one possible way to signify a certain interpretation of data.
It sounds a little complicated, but the principle is actually very simple. Take the symbol “A.” We know that “A” always signifies the first letter of the alphabet – it’s never used to indicate any other letter. We also know that the only way to indicate the first letter of the alphabet is “A.” (That’s not exactly true – you could also write a lowercase “a” – but you get the idea.) This idea of a 1:1 ratio between symbols and meaning, or input and output, if you will, is applied to digital information.
As you may know, all information contained on a digital medium, such as a hard disk, is made up entirely of 1s and 0s. This is the “DNA” of digital information. For this information to be read and transferred, the computer system recognizes that each data unit of “1” triggers only one distinct response, and each “0” triggers only one distinct response different from the first. Long strings of 1s and 0s are interpreted to produce information as we see it on the computer screen.
This concept of polar transfer – where “0” means only one thing and “1” means only one thing – is what allows for digital information to be copied with perfect accuracy. When the data is copied, the 1s and 0s will recreate themselves in exactly the same sequence – so when the sequence is reassembled and interpreted as the copy, it will be indistinguishable from the original.
Of course, there is always the slim probability of mechanical failure or some kind of corruption in the data which renders the disk unable to distinguish between 1s and 0s. Even in this case, the file is more likely to return an “unreadable” message than it is to create a working but imperfect copy.
Probably the most well-known form of analog copying is with the use of a photocopier, or copy machine. These devices use a technique known as xerography, where a light-sensitive photo-receptor uses electrostatic charges to transfer toner in the form of a powder onto blank paper. Heat or pressure (sometimes both) then fuses the toner particles to the paper. The result is that photocopiers are able to make paper duplicates of any text or images that can be scanned by the photocopier. Certain copiers use different techniques, such as ink jet copying, but xerography is the standard for the typical office copy machine.
The xerographic method debuted in 1959 with the Xerox company. It quickly outpaced competing copiers made by Verifax and Photostat, as well as other copying methods such as carbon paper and mimeograph machines. It has remained a workplace staple in the education, business, and government sectors ever since.
Of course, times change, and some industry experts have predicted that xerographic copy machines may be on the way out. The expected decline is due to the increasing prevalence of digital methods for creating, storing, and distributing documents. For now, copiers are still holding fast as a widely-used office fixture. Modern copiers have evolved with the digital age: high-end equipment will often serve as an all-in-one copy machine, fax machine, scanner, and network-enabled printer. Some of these machines are also able to scan, copy and print in color.
Before there were today’s photocopiers, there were duplicating machines.
The duplicating machine arrived in the same era as the typewriter. Both inventions were products of the Second Industrial Revolution, which rolled through much of Europe and America in the late 19th century. This time period saw the first mass production of new technologies such as small electric motors and industrial chemicals, both of which were crucial to the widespread success of duplicating machines. As typewriters and duplicating machines became more affordable, they quickly became indispensable equipment for businesses. The increased need for large volumes of paperwork, and the cheap methods to produce and duplicate it, significantly changed the way offices looked and operated.
Duplicating machines found great popularity in churches, schools, and small organizations. For the first time in history, these machines made it economical to produce newsletters and worksheets on a small scale. Duplicating machines also enabled self-publishers to produce limited-run fanzines, creating a booming industry of small publishing houses.