just the fax

old fax machine as a waste

Yes, it’s 2016 and I still have a fax machine. It’s like having a pet turtle. When you haven’t seen it moving around for a while you wonder if it died. But then, you get an important message from some roofer guy or some asphalt driveway guy and you know your fax machine still works, at least for now.

Like turtles, fax machines require very little maintenance. The primary thing is to dust it regularly—the fax, not the turtle.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t bring myself to throw mine away because I do business with Magisterial District Judges. Believe it or not, you can’t send them an email. There isn’t any compelling reason why. They have a fairly modern electronic communications system for case management, but they never quite got around to using email for communication with the rest of the world. Common Pleas Judges are not much better, although this is gradually evolving with the change of the guard. Most judge’s email, where it is accepted at all, is policed by a tech savvy secretary or law clerk. A judge’s tipstaff once told me with a straight face that email can be hacked but faxes cannot. Excellent excuse for refusing to learn how to use your computer!

And I hear that certain other professions are equally antediluvian. Doctors offices fax prescriptions to pharmacies. The official reason, I am told, is the need for a signature on a prescription. Maybe, but more likely, it is just too much trouble to get everybody on board with scanning. Sadly, there are still quite a few of us who still don’t know how to scan, don’t want to learn and (so they say) don’t have the equipment. [No double entendre intended, but now that I’ve written it, I stand by both meanings.]

I read somewhere on the internet that there are still three billion fax machines in the world. Most of them, it seems likely, are old and getting older. But not everywhere. Where in the world do you think the fax machine is still a hot item? Take a wild guess.

Time’s up. It’s Japan. People buy them to use as the land line at home. Nobody knows for sure why the Japanese love to fax. It has been described as an odd quirk in the Japanese character. Some say that it is primarily used to submit forms for health insurance reimbursement. However, the idea I like the best is that Japanese love to hand-write letters in those elegant Japanese characters using a steel tipped pen and India ink. And, of course, there are limits to even the proverbial patience of the Japanese. Why send your masterpiece of calligraphy by snail mail when you can fax it?

That’s not to say that nobody in America buys a fax machine these days. I bought a new one a few years ago, after the last one died. Since I only needed it once a month or less, I decided to buy the cheapest one available. It cost $32 online—the best price by far. Or so I thought at the time.

Rather than use an ink cartridge, this Paleolithic model turned out to employ a “ribbon,” as in “typewriter ribbon.” It is really just a wide piece of carbon paper on a scroll. This ribbon, which is only good for about 30 pages, costs (you guessed it) exactly $32.

When I haven’t received a roof repair ad for a while, I check the ribbon. Almost always, I have exceeded the allotted 30 pages of messages. One time I installed a new ribbon only to discover that some lazy legal secretary had faxed me a 30-page brief. I asked, very politely, that she not do it again. Three months later, she did.

There was a time when my fax bell rang 24/7. I’d change the paper in the middle of the night on the way back from the bathroom. Now, when it rings at all, it is usually a wrong number. Still, like a well trained dog, I run to check when I hear the bell. As a matter of fact, there it goes now. Excuse me for a minute.

I’m back. As I was saying, I sure am glad I still have a fax machine. Did you know that I can cruise the Caribbean for only $200.00? Or is that $20,000?  I can’t tell whether that black mark is a decimal point or just a smudge.

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