Fax Machines Still Buzzing After Many Years

A Little History

When the mechanical typewriter was invented back in the 1860s, it was quickly adopted in offices around world. Decades later, when the electric typewriter was introduced, it was a big technological advance. The electric typewriter ruled until the affordable PC revolution exploded in the early to mid 1980s.

As the PC market grew so did word processing, which had enormous advantages over typewriters. So, it wasn’t long before the venerable typewriter was finally kicked to the curb. The typewriter soon vanished from desktops, and the space it once occupied was quickly replaced with computer monitors and keyboards.

Enter the Facsimile Machine

Not long after the PC revolution kicked into high gear, facsimile machines became compact and affordable, and every office had one. Second only to the PC, the fax machine was one of the most coveted pieces of office modernization hardware since the typewriter.

It was only a matter of time before computer and internet technology would make the fax machine obsolete. In fact, the fax machine has been obsolete for decades. Even dial-up modems from 25 years ago had fax capabilities built into them. But the software they came with was usually clunky and difficult to use. The fax machine remained the tool of choice.

Then email, PDF and the JPEG picture format came along. Gradually… very gradually, the focus shifted from fax machines and phone lines to transferring documents and pictures over email and the internet. While some of us adopted these faster, more efficient methods early, it seems much of the world, including plenty of technophobes in the U.S. and other Western countries, were slow to leave the old fax machine and embrace the newer methods.

While not as ubiquitous as they once were, many home and business offices still have a fax machine. Every once in a while, it will wake up and produce that old, familiar, digital buzzing sound and roll out paper with freshly printed text and graphics. The machine may look a little more advanced, be a little quieter, and produce a better facsimile than the early days of fax machines, but the underlying technology is much the same as it always was.

You might say that, in some ways, it was the fax machine that started the era of instant gratification, which has become the underlying driver of so many industries today, and the expectations of a generation that may never have even used a funky, old fashioned fax machine. How ironic.

Counting the days…

While, for some, the ability to send and receive handwritten notes and contracts with personal signatures still offers much appeal, the days of the fax machine are surely numbered. Just as the number of ears that perk to the sound of big band music grows smaller with the evolution of music, so too, do the number of ears that listen for that high-pitched buzz of the honorable old facsimile machine as modern communications technology advances.

At a point in time when video calls over Skype, flying drones and 3-D printing can be considered yesterday’s news, fax machines are still with us. Though little changed from their heyday when they graced every office in the Western world with a phone and an electrical outlet, it is remarkable how much of the technological timeline the revered fax machine has claimed. Even though manufacturers no longer make the cathode-ray TV’s the vast majority of us grew up on, some still make fax machines, and the market still buys them.

Who knows… if the fax machine were somehow adapted to include built-in games, it might be around a great deal longer.

I gave my electric typewriter to a college student many years ago. Not doubt it’s in a landfill somewhere now. But I still have an online fax account I never use, and my fax machine is still in the closet, collecting dust. I just hate it that I only used one roll of the last six-pack of thermal paper I bought for it!

11 thoughts on “Fax Machines Still Buzzing After Many Years”

  1. Hello Daniel. You forgot to mention those multi-function combo units, which included a fax (print, scan, copy, etc…). Nothing to do with the pc or internet and another handy tool, Mindblower!

  2. Fax machines will never disappear. Every time I go for a medical appointment they need to have the fax number of my primary care physician. Why? Because all these new recordkeeping systems can not talk to each other. My physician at a major hospital has to fax my prescription to the largest pharmacy because they cannot talk to each other. Even the newer medical record systems coming on line still use electronic faxing. Email they say is too insecure, even if coded.

    1. Doctors I go to like to communicate by fax, not all but a significant number. Also, a national pharmaceutical chain where I get my prescriptions requests refill authorizations by fax.

      I’m guessing that faxes are harder to ignore than e-mail. Furthermore, they might wary of spam with malware links masquerading as legitimate communications. . It’s kind of hard to click on fax paper.

  3. Is it not possible to buy software that would enable an all-in-one printer to scan and send to a fax number ?
    Also, to run a background program, which would receive a message sent from a fax machine elsewhere ?

    1. Daniel Banks

      ​Sally, when computers still had dial-up modem cards with fax capability, there were several fax programs that could run on you computer. I think that whole concept died with Windows 98.​ Now days, it’s simpler to get a free account with eFax and let the fax come to you as an email attachment.

      Many all-in-one printers do, in fact, work as a fax machine, in addition to scanning and copying.

      1. Thank you, Daniel.
        It seems the eFax is free , only for a 30-day trial period.
        I only need the fax facility on a few occasions, in a year.
        My best option would be to buy an all-in-one , when my printer needs replacing.

  4. I still remember standing in awe as we typed into our teletext machine and watched the punched ribbon spit out before loading it and sending to our recipients. The new fangled fax machine then blew our minds. (Am i really writing this ?)

  5. I read this prediction, not sure which website, before. I guess Fax’s use is diminishing; but, I would be hard pressed to notice any discernible difference.

    There’s a shipping concern near me where you can fax for a fee. Evidently, it has enough business to be lucrative enough to keep doing this. I don’t have a fax and last used it 10-11 months ago.

    I’m sure the fax will eventually become commercially extinct; but for a few, perhaps several, decades. Long after a lot of us are dead and buried.

  6. I’ve seen this whole evolution. In my first job the mechanical typewriter was replaced with the electric one. Both ways, the documents were typed and then placed in sealed envelopes and taken to the post office. Then we evolved to faxing them when that became more popular.

    In my second job I saw typing evolve into document creation on the computer. The documents were then printed out and taken to the fax machine. Then I witnessed a gradual change to documents being saved and sent via email to recipients.

    As we’re in the business of buying and selling, I’ve seen another change – suppliers who’ve moved us on to a portal where we transfer order information directly rather than shuffling around bits of paper.

    Then there are customers who issue Purchase Orders who are in different stages of evolution – those who print the PO and then send to us by Fax, and those who create the PO and send direct from their system to our email address without printing it.

  7. Personally, I believe that 97.8 percent of people who still use fax machines just don’t understand how easy it is to convert a document to a PDF file and send it via email. I suppose the other 2.2 percent see facsimile transfer as more secure than email. But, what’s going to happen when no one has land lines anymore… only cell phones? I guess they’ll start building cellular technology into the fax machine.

    1. Hadn’t thought of that “beach boui”, but it does seem like people are less dependent on their land lines now, and the Fax connection is essentially a land line.

      Apart from converting a new document to a PDF file, existing paper documents can be scanned to PDF with the average multi- function machine, then saved and emailed from your computer.

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