In Defense of the Fax Machine

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?

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.