In Defense of the Fax Machine

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The Washington Post reports today that even as the fax machine is consigned to the dustbin of history in most of the world, it remains popular in Japan. Here are the basic stats:

As of March, according to Japan’s Cabinet Office, fax machines could be found in 59 percent of Japanese homes. (That penetration rate, after climbing for years, has peaked in the past five years.) Coming up with a similar number for the United States would require a “polite fiction,” said Jonathan Coopersmith, a Texas A&M University associate professor and an expert on the history of the facsimile.

Really? I have a fax machine in my home. Two of them, in fact. That’s because, like millions of other people, Marian and I both have multifunction devices connected to our computers, and those multifunction devices include a fax machine. Perhaps the difference is that I actually have mine connected to a phone line, while most people don’t bother.

But I’m curious about that. I have mine connected because (a) a phone cord came with the device, so it costs me nothing, and (b) I actually use it once in a while. But most people are sort of agog about that. Use a fax machine? Good God, man, that’s just embarrassing. Why not carve out your message on a piece of granite and have a team of oxen haul it to its destination?

But every once in a while, it’s still necessary to send a copy of something to someone. Just yesterday we faxed over a counteroffer on a piece of property we’re trying to sell. The alternative is to scan the document and email it, but that’s actually more work than just faxing. So why is the humble fax machine held in such contempt? Isn’t it still occasionally a useful device to have around? And since for most of us who use multifunction devices it’s free, why not use it?

I open this burning question to you, my loyal readership. What am I missing here?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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