Do we even still fax?

Jan 3, 2020 | Hot Topics

Hello and welcome back! I hope you had a bit of time off at the year-end and are not stressing too much over how many cookies you might (or might not, we’ll never know) have consumed.

I’m easing back in and discovered this marvelous headline among all of the emails and blogs I need to read:

It’s by Oleg Shilovitsky, who knows a thing or two about PLM, being a serial PLM entrepreneur and currently founder of Newman Cloud, maker of openBOM. You can find his entire post here; for now, I’d like to just riff on that headline for a moment. Of course I’ll read his entire post later; this is just about that headline and the demise of the fax machine.

My Dad had a fax machine; it had those funky rolls of paper that faded very quickly and felt so very strange to the touch. The fax revolutionized communication: he was able to send and receive instantly what would have been a telegram or letter otherwise. And it was a true facsimile, meaning that it could transmit images and signatures. Of course, you needed a dedicated phone line, spam faxers figured out how to identify a fax line and send junk advertising … it was far from perfect. But for a while, it was the best form of communication. Your note could be passive/aggressive since you didn’t actually have to talk to a human being. It was asynchronous, since the fax could be picked up when the recipient was ready. And you could, until they figured out logging technology, claim not to have received the fax. Not that my Dad ever did any of those things — but one could have.

The fax changed how we thought about communicating. The choices then were letter or call. Cable if it was dire. And, because the fax process created an actual copy of the original document, it could send handwritten notes, sketches and other art. Fax added another dimension of directness and urgency and it was cool, too.

So why aren’t we all still faxing? Email. We can be even more instant and passive/aggressive, and can add signatures and images as we need to.

That said, fax machines live on. According to the BBC, they are still being made to support very specific types of content that can’t be validated or transmitted via email.

I don’t know (yet) what Oleg makes of it all, but here’s my take: Fax technology wasn’t new when my Dad bought his machine in the 1980s. But it was new to him and truly changed the way he worked. He could send a fax during his work day and get a reply while he slept, that he looked at the next morning. It was physical and real; hard to say “that’s not what I said” when it’s there on paper.

What’s on the horizon for us, as consumers of tech? How will it change our work, life or both? Can we be open to those changes, or will we be the equivalent of the telegram company, which likely said “No worries. it’ll never take off”?

I hope your 2020 is off to an amazing start and look forward to catching up with you next week digitally, and in person as the year goes on. Happy 2020!

The title image is of a fax machine and operator from a US-based website,

It is atop a 2014 article that starts,

Be aware and plan ahead.  The IRS has recently revised Form 2848 – Power of Attorney.  It appears that electronic filing of this form is no longer permitted.  All forms must be mailed or faxed to the IRS (the form instructions contain new fax numbers).  So, for those of you who have long ditched your old fax machines, you may want to pull that dinosaur out of storage.

I checked; the IRS still likes faxed forms in 2020. Crazy.