Ever consider how weird it is that, in this era of the Internet, video chat, Instagram, selfies, and so on, we still conduct a considerable amount of business by fax machine? A lot of places that won’t accept documents by email will accept them by fax. And so people still have to make their way to their local copy shop, or other place where they can pay to use a fax machine—or else figure out how to scan or photograph their documents and use an Internet fax service like FaxZero to send them out.

Part of the reason fax machines still endure is that, paradoxically, their primitive nature means that they can actually be a more secure method of transmission than the Internet. The health insurance company where I work can’t email documents like temporary health insurance cards or eligibility letters that might contain Protected Health Information (PHI), unless it uses the encrypted mail system built into its own web site. But it can fax that information, no problem. Internet email can be intercepted or go awry, but a fax goes exactly where it’s sent—directly from point A to point B. This also makes it good for government and financial documentation.

Perhaps another part is fax’s relative simplicity: to send a fax, all you have to do is put the papers into the feeder and dial the number. To receive a fax, you just wait for the machine to spit out the paper. You don’t have to worry about scanning documents and attaching them to an email, or figuring out how to download and print them off when you get them. (Of course, folks who use services like FaxZero have to scan them anyway, but those are things geeks do. “Normal” folks would just go to some shop that has a machine.)

I suppose the fax machine is the modern equivalent of the telegram—a method of communication that was outmoded by later advances, but still managed to cling to relevance for decades. I imagine the fax machine’s specific use case will still keep it around for a while.

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