Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Slow and Painful Death of the Fax Machine

Every so often, a new technology is invented that completely displaces an existing technology. When a new invention offers such significant improvement over the current technology that it can drive an entire market out of business almost overnight, it is a phenomenon known as a "disruptive technology."

The Slow and Painful Death of the Fax MachineIn many cases, the new technology is hailed as a "quantum leap" or "paradigm shift" in the industry. Before the pocket calculator came along, the slide rule was the best we had. Before jet-powered aircraft came along, propeller-powered aircraft were the best we could do. The typewriter was the king of the publishing world for decades before the personal computer came along.

In almost every case, these new technologies provided huge improvements over the existing ones. Businesses and consumers are generally eager to pick up on new technologies that will make their lives easier.

And yet, one technology that should have been disrupted long ago is still around. One slow and inferior communication technology still has not been defeated by its superior rival. It is 2009 and for some strange reason, fax machines are still commonly found in businesses, offices, and homes nationwide!

The death grip that the business world has on fax machines extends far beyond mom and pop businesses and the Luddites of technology. In fact, everyone from small local businesses to Fortune 100 companies still uses fax machines on a daily basis. I just cannot understand this!

Fax machines require a dedicated telephone line. They take forever to scan, compress, and transmit information. Sometimes they have busy signals or cannot go through. The information sent to a fax machine can only be retrieved from one physical location.

Do these people know about email? Do they know that it's possible to send multi-page documents electronically from one computer to another? In fact, email is a superior technology to the facsimile in every way.

Email messages can be retrieved from any computer that's connected to the Internet. With email, it is possible to send larger, high resolution pictures and documents in less time. Although both email and faxes are subject to unsolicited messages ("spam"), email provides the option of setting up filters to automatically delete such messages. Fax machines do not.

It seems to me that the only people who are still using fax machines are the ones who are too dumb to use email. I think fax machines should have been inducted into the Museum of Obsolete Technology long ago.