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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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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