Who the fax is still sending faxes?

Our editorial team wondered whether it is possible to still buy a fax machine. Guess who was given the job of finding out?

Me, a millennial, someone who has never used a fax machine in her life.

Apparently people still fax. In fact, the Mail & Guardian has a clunky fax machine hidden under the reception desk. I’m told it is down to its last ink cartridge, which is not available on the market anymore. Hectic.

Trying to buy a new fax machine at one of the big retail shops is equivalent to winning the jackpot in a lottery draw that you didn’t even buy a ticket for.

That’s according to an Incredible Connection salesman so I guess that’s a “no, impossible”.

In fact, from what he said, he last sold a fax machine in 2009.

Although these devices are hard to find on the market this outdated piece of technology simply refuses to die. The fax machine as we know it was introduced in 1964 by Xerox. A lot of technology has happened since then — it’s now a simple matter of scan, email and go.

Yet people still fax. My local PostNet has about 50 customers a month wanting to send faxes. Where are all these faxes going? Where in the world is there a place with no email?

Well, the United States apparently. An assistant told me that Americans are still active faxers and use my local PostNet to fax US companies that are not prepared to accept emails. “It’s crazy! You would think it’s the other way around,” said the assistant.

Today, most imaging and electronics companies have multifunctional machines that print, copy and scan — and sometimes include the fax function.

“People buy devices purely for convenience; they won’t necessarily use the fax even though it comes as a function,” said Ernst Leong, office product manager at Xerox.

Leanne Letther, Inkjet product manager at Canon, said: “What I do find is that it’s usually the older generation that still uses fax, the guys that are reluctant to change. [And] in government departments fax is still quite a big thing.”

According to the Fax Authority, “your online guide to frustrating technology”, the main reasons faxing is still in use are, one, it still has a “massive” user base — every business has a fax machine and publishes a fax number.

Two, faxing is quicker than other technologies. Drop a piece of paper into the document feeder, press 10 digits and a green button and your information is transmitted.

“No need to scan to a computer, realise the document is upside down, go back and rescan it, go back to your computer, look up someone’s email address and then send the document.”

Three, it’s more secure than other technologies when sending signed documents.There’s no need to worry about an image of a signature being stored on a network because a fax works over a telephone line.

Finally, a fax has the WhatsApp blue tick function. A person sending a fax can choose to get a confirmation message that the other party has received the fax.

Karin Griffiths, retail and marketing coordinator at Brother, said the age of the fax had not totally come to an end but rather sales have declined over time. Brother still provides a limited range of fax machines. In 2016 the company sold 460 units in South Africa.

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust trainee financial reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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Tebogo Tshwane
Tebogo Tshwane

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust financial journalism trainee at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a general news intern at Eyewitness News and a current affairs show presenter at the Voice of Wits FM. Tshwane is passionate about socioeconomic issues and understanding how macroeconomic activities affect ordinary people. She holds a journalism honours degree from Wits University. 

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