Here’s an article from my column for March’s CAMagazine.
It’s fascinating to think how many technologies can enter our lives and then one day, simply disappear!
We recently lost an old friend. Our fax machine finally packed it in. This wasn’t just any old fax machine. It was a Panafax UF-600, which my wife and I got for our home office and fledgling business in October 1990.
How many products today last 20 years? We dispose of cellphones within a year or two, if not faster, to grab the latest hot features; we go through televisions like we go through fashion. Yet this device, which had a simple, concise and singular purpose, managed to stick with us and fulfil its role for two decades, a remarkable achievement in our era of instant obsolescence.
Looking at the machine as it sits on the office floor, destined for the dustbin of technological obsolescence, I think about the many stories it could tell, providing insight into how quickly our world is changing. For example, it suffered a Y2K failure. With all the hype and hysteria that surrounded this nonevent, our poor little machine suffered a date failure, rolled back into the last century and we were never able to fix it. So for the past 10 years, as a futurist, I’ve sent the occasional fax with a date of 1910 at the top.
In the early days of my hectic speaking career, the fax machine was the “good news machine.” New contracts from speakers’ bureaus for events in far-off places would come in; the noise of the fax was a distant early signal of the success that would come with my unique career evolution.
Back in the days before BlackBerrys and iPhones and constant connections, we would come home from a two-week unplugged holiday only to discover rolls and rolls of fax messages spooled up from its thermal imaging system, each one with the details of a new contract. Yet, over time, most of these communications transitioned to the Internet and e-mail. The business success continued, but the vicarious thrill that came with the fax ringer began to disappear. We sort of miss it.
It was a window to change. My sons, who have become young men of 15 and 17, learned about the vastness of the world through the range of technologies that existed in our home office. But I’m not sure they ever understood what the fax machine was for — it became an historical curiosity to them. As the number of faxes received began to decline, the occasional arrival of one every second week always provided the spark for conversation. “Why do some people use the funny machine?” they would ask.
Perhaps the most amusing moment was when the boys were about four and six years old, and we heard the familiar ring of the fax machine during dinner one night. “Oh, there’s a fax coming into the office,” I said. The youngest quietly got up from the table and went down to the office. He came back a few moments later, commenting that he didn’t see it. After a few questions, we discovered that he thought a “fox,” not a fax, was coming into the office so he went down to take a look. I think he was disappointed. Brave, too.
Will we get a new fax machine? We’re not quite sure; we’ve come to think that this technology might have finally run its course. We scan most anything we send now; most people send documents via e-mail. The majority of faxes we received in the past year were junk. We pay a monthly bill for a unique phone number that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose.
Whatever our decision might be, it is kind of sad to see an old friend disappear.