Why the fax machine refuses to die

The fax should be a distant memory by now, but the bizarre ritual of transmitting documents over the phone line persists

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Nonetheless, I can understand that traditionalists might demand faxes for contracts and other documents that need an ink signature. OK, fine, let's limit it to that. But no! According to GreenFax, there are over 200 billion pages still faxed every year, and you can be damned sure they're not all contracts. Informational faxes fan out from tons of organizations to tons of other organizations -- with a computer generating the faxes on the send side using a fax modem to send them. It's like a tiny bubble of 1995 surrounds every fax machine. A computer could easily be tasked with emailing the same information or even (gasp!) updating an RSS feed.

True, email is not what it once was, thanks to the bottom-dwelling villanous scumbags that persist in sending billions of spam messages every year. But I'd venture that for person-to-person document transfers, email is far better than faxing, which can easily result in illegible pages, printing errors, faxing errors, security problems on the receiving side ("hmm, this looks interesting"), and a bevy of other problems.

Smart companies don't bother with paper-based fax machines and instead opt for document centers that have scanning abilities in addition to fax capabilities, although they're still beholden to accept faxes. If they're smart, they'll employ a fixed fax server that has four, six, or two dozen analog lines attached and the ability to take incoming faxes and turn them into PDFs and email them internally (or, sadly, ship them directly to a printer). That's still better than a cranky old fax machine sitting in the corner with a pile of forgotten incoming faxes in the hopper. Heck, you can check out any number of companies (like GreenFax) that handle all the fax-to-email capabilities you'd possibly want.

We've been promised the paperless office for decades. Every time someone jettisons a fax machine, that promise gets a little closer to reality. Every time a company omits fax numbers from its business cards and website, it gets even closer. Every time someone sends a 50-page analog fax of a document they just printed out from a PDF on their desktop, it gets further away.

If something as appallingly stupid as the fax machine can live on, it makes you wonder how we make progress at all. Old habits die hard. It just goes to show you: Bad technology generally isn't the problem; it's the people who persist in using that technology rather than embracing far superior alternatives.

This story, "Why the fax machine refuses to die," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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