We all hate our printers, right? They're frustrating, clattering things that manage to swallow every other sheet in their complicated innards, and they come with manuals that have pictures of happy families beaming with the joy of printing solid-color pie charts.

My previous printer was a wireless model that couldn't find the home network if you duct-taped the router to its side. It decided to die the day I'd bought $65 worth of ink that could never be used with any other printer. It printed one "alignment" page that was supposed to be a series of straight lines. Instead, it looked like Jackson Pollack at the Spin-Art booth.

When I went to buy a new printer, there was one brand with a welcome selling point: cheap ink. We all chafe at ink costs — what is in this stuff, whale ambergris and moon rocks? But I used to have this brand, and, as I recall, it printed only 10 pages before its inability to load a sheet from the tray rivaled a drunk trying to thread a needle in an earthquake.

I ended up buying a printer with a novel approach: You pay for ink every month, a recurring subscription based on the number of sheets you usually print. When the printer senses that you're getting low on ink, it calls and orders more.

Perfect. How many times have you stood at the office-supply store and tried to find your ink? "OK, I need an Epsmark BX-933 TruColor / UltraBlack, but all I see is Epsmark BX-339 UltraColor / TruBlack."

The two might be compatible, but you can't compare your cartridge to it because the ones for sale are wrapped in plastic shrouds in sealed boxes, as if they contained the soul of an Egyptian pharaoh. So you keep looking until you find the right combination of numbers and letters, and then you pay $65 because you know the cheap generic cartridges will make your printer shout "UNCLEAN! REJECT!" and emit a fine spray of ink everywhere like a startled squid.

So I started paying the monthly fee. And even though I wasn't printing anything, it was worth it not to have to worry about ink ever again.

Then it came time to print some lost-dog posters. And, as we have long suspected, it turns out that printers really can detect their users' stress levels and have no qualms about taking advantage of the situation.

After a few pages, I got urgent e-mails from the printer's mother ship: "You are over your allotted monthly pages, and while you have some rollover pages, you're skating perilously close to open water, pal. You might want to change your plan."

I didn't know I had a printer plan. I had a printer, and I wanted to print. That was the plan. I almost wept to learn that rollover pages existed, and that I had them.

But, as it turned out, not enough of them. Because I bought the lowest tier of service, I would have to increase my monthly print allotment to get more ink. I chose the tier most suitable for "unhinged obsessives who mail out weekly manifestos about how the Earth is actually triangular and Nelson Rockefeller lives in the center, licking his lips with a forked tongue."

I explained to my wife why we couldn't print lost-dog fliers right then: I'd maxed out the printer plan. But not to worry, I assured her. There's more ink on the way.

"You mean, now?" she said, as if a FedEx truck would be zooming up to the house at 11 p.m. "Hot ink comin' through!" the driver would shout as the package was tossed over the fence.

"Well, no. But the ink should be here tomorrow." I cringed as I said it. Tomorrow! It's 2017 and we have to wait until tomorrow for ink? What is the world coming to? Just look at the brief history of printers:

1986. "I can print at home? Incredible!"

2017. "I hate this thing."

This is our future: In 2117, when 3-D printers are common, you'll be able to print out interesting people for your dinner party — short-term robots full of quotes and observations. Your spouse will ask you for an extra guest, and you'll be low on juice, and curse the machine because it just gave you a leg, a shoulder and some hair.

But then, as now, you'll have an explanation: The printer jammed.

I can't wait until they invent one that actually prints jam.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks