April 02, 2005

Old tech never dies - fax machines

The fax machine refuses to die. Check the below and notice how many clues there are in the use of signatures and paper records; you can see these clues in the Ricardian contract, where we insist it is printable and we go to extraordinary lengths to entangle it in lieu of a visual signature. The big message: tech needs to meld with old ways, not demand to replace it.

The fax machine refuses to die

By Robert Johnson The New York Times Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Older technology still not obsolete

In an office world that has gone largely digital, hand-held and wireless, the fax machine is ancient technology that just will not go away. No one shows off their fax machine the way they might, say, a BlackBerry. Yet the fax persists as a mockery of the much-predicted paperless society.

Ask Rodney Eddins. If any of his accounting clients want his undivided attention at work first thing in the morning, they should shun e-mail or his telephone answering machine. Instead, they should send him a fax.

"The first thing I look at when I arrive is the incoming tray of my fax machine," said Eddins, a certified public accountant in Orlando, Florida. "If there's paper there, I feel like I have to look at it." Only after he sorts through the faxes of the morning - though most on a recent day were ads - does Eddins log on to his computer and listen to his phone messages.

Still, like many other people, Eddins readily acknowledges a tortured relationship with his fax machine. Finding it essential for transmitting sensitive accounting documents and forms that require signatures, like tax returns, he grudgingly tolerates the noise and mess, not to mention the deluge of junk faxes.

"I actually hate my fax machine," he said. "But I need it."

Jonathan Bees, a former product manager for office machines at Konica, who is now editor in chief of Better Buys for Business magazine, said, "Back in the mid-1990s, when e-mail was really coming into its own, we had high-priced consultants telling us that the fax was going the way of the horse and buggy." Among the products he reviews for consumers these days are fax machines.

"They're better than ever - quieter, faster and with clearer reproduction," he said. "They haven't been passed by, after all."

Some 1.5 million fax machines were sold in the United States last year for use at both businesses and homes, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Manufacturers estimate that they sold 500,000 more machines that combined a fax function with other functions, like copying and scanning.

Although sales of stand-alone fax machines are well below their peak of 3.6 million in 1997, some manufacturers say that if the multiuse machines are included, demand has been rising of late. "We have been seeing an increase in fax sales for the last four or five years," said Paul Fountain, marketing product manager at Hewlett-Packard in San Diego.

In 1994, Hewlett-Packard left the fax market, believing the predictions of impending obsolescence. "We came back in 1998," Fountain said, "because we realized the fax was not going away."

While fax machines are not as prevalent as computers in the workplace or home offices, Bill Young, a communications coach at Strickland Group in New York City, said, "The fax has important functions that e-mail simply hasn't been able to take over." Those would include reproducing signatures on documents like contracts, business proposals and medical prescriptions.

CVS, a 5,300-store chain, relies on fax machines as the most common means of receiving prescriptions, said a company spokesman, Todd Andrews. "The fax gives the pharmacist a written record of what the doctor ordered," he said. Faxing avoids misunderstandings that can occur when prescriptions are phoned in.


Posted by iang at April 2, 2005 09:31 AM | TrackBack

I find it ridiculous that people accept a signed fax as proof of anything. I have explicitly told my Bank NOT to accept signed authorizations to do anything regarding my account. It is so easy to forge the signature on a fax that it makes me wonder why it has not become a widespread criminal activity.

I guess, the fax will die with the retirement of the (legrely) computer-illiterate generation of office workers. Well within our lifetime.

Posted by: Daniel A. Nagy at April 2, 2005 06:24 PM

An old friend just called and told me how his ex-wife got access to his locked mail box while he was in hospital obtaining a check and forging his signature then depositing the check in her bank account. Now the US Post Office knew her but had no signature for her to recieve any of the mail from that box and the bank had no reason to accept a check made out to her ex-husband. This is all very low tech but the ex-wife has a history or scams involving recieving dead peoples social security and bunch of other types of criminal scams. In fact she uses her dead mothers credit references to obtain loans again forging signatures. So low tech still walks around getting pay days for how long your guess is as good as mine.

Posted by: Jimbo at April 2, 2005 08:59 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Hit preview to see your comment as it would be displayed.