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The guy just down the street from me actually sighed when I walked into his place of business yesterday. Four of the last five weekdays, we've stood four feet away from one another, toddering back and forth on our heels, straining to make conversation.

"You are back again, I see," he said.

"Yep," I said. "I'm not happy about it either."

"Those Yankees, they are playing well again," he said.

"Yes," I said, clicking the roof of my mouth with my tongue, "yes, they are."

I handed him seven sheets of paper in pristine condition, the exact same seven sheets of paper I had handed him two days before.


"Let's try this again," I said, gave him a phone number to type into the machine and handed him seven bucks. This brought our total to $24 for the week. All for a service that neither one of us could be sure was actually working.

We were at the Speedway Copy and Printing store, just blocks from Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, and we were playing the Dance of Fax.

The papers all went through, the little machine beeped and he gave me a "sheet of the confirmation." As I walked out the front door, disgruntled, grumbling, unconvinced, the guy waved to me.

"Good luck!" he said. "I hope it went through this time!"

Let's just say, hypothetically speaking, that 20 percent of the emails you sent never made it to their intended recipient. Twenty percent. Of the last 10 emails you sent -- personal, business or whatever -- two of them just never got there. Something jammed them up.

Now, imagine that each of those emails took you two minutes to send, and until the person emailed you back to confirm they had received them, you would have no idea whether or not it had failed again and you'd have to do it all over. Oh, and imagine that it cost you about two bucks to send each email.

This scenario, of course, is familiar to anyone who has to deal with a fax machine. To put it plainly: There is no longer any reason to use a fax machine. None. There's not a single function a fax machine performs that a computer cannot. Need a newspaper article sent? Scan it in and email it out as a PDF. Signed document sent over? Just sign the contract, scan that and email it out. (There's no reason it's any less notarized than a fax, which, after all, is just a copy itself. Renee Thomas, director of field marketing for fax-integration software company Esker, says that with new authentication technology, PDF's are now just as secure for signatures as faxes-or even paper.)

"Lots of times, faxes were used to send pre-existing documents," says Bob Zeitlinger, managing director of B To Z Communications, a public relations firm based in Washington, D.C. "Now with scanners, it's no longer necessary, especially when several people need the pre-existing documents. Emailing a PDF eliminates the need to fax again and again."

According to Home Office Reports magazine, 20 percent of faxes fail to go through, either by a sender/recipient mistake or, more likely, technical error. This, from a machine that sits separate from your computer and costs considerably more than, say, a scanner. And that's not even counting the expense of carrying an extra phone line.

So: Who are these people who are still making us fax things? And have they discovered fire yet?

Here's your answer: They're the same people who can't figure out their remote control, or where the T is on the keyboard.

"It's important to remember that a lot of people still aren't using email, even in their place of



Just The Fax: A Timeline

1843 -- Alexander Bain, a Scottish mechanic and amateur clock maker, invents facsimile transmission, using cattle jaw bones and electromagnets in the creation of his device.

1865 -- In France, Giovanni Cavelli opens the first commercial fax service between Paris and Marseilles. Business at the French Post and Telegraph Co. is so slow, the shop is closed within five years.

1902 -- Dr. Arthur Korn improves the fax, switching from a mechanical-based system to the photoelectric system.

1914 -- Edouard Belin uses the fax machine to aid in news reporting, letting journalists fudge datelines for the first time.

1924 -- Fax machines are used to send photos from the political conventions all the way across the country, so newspapers can publish them the next day.

1955 -- The dawn of a new era! The first transcontinental fax is sent.

1966 -- Xerox introduces the 46-pound Magnafax Telecopier, which connects to phone lines and takes six minutes to send an 8.5- by 11-inch document.

1985 -- Dr. Hank Magnuski, founder of GammaLink, creates GammaFax, the first computer fax board.

1987 -- Canon creates the first plain paper fax, so executives don't have to flatten their curled-up faxes under big, heavy books.

1996 -- The first Internet-compatible fax machines are created, running at a whopping 33.6 kbps.



business," Thomas said. "In a lot of these places, it was an enormous expense for them to finally take on. Eventually, they won't be around anymore. But that eventually is a long way away."

This seems to be the general consensus: Once people wake up and realize that fax machines are pointless and dead, the world will be a better place. But no one's really in any hurry.

In fact, the only time "normal" people ever use faxes -- you know, those who have a computer that runs more than BASIC -- is when they're dealing with office drones who don't know any better … or they're just, essentially, doodling.

"I will often perform a 'quick scan' by faxing a document to myself and them picking up the PDF from my Web inbox," says Mike Fritsch, CEO of Prometheus Performance Systems and the self-proclaimed "GizmoPhd." "Of course color and complex documents are much better scanned, but for the quick black and white hard copy it is still hard to beat the fax."

Yeah, well, Doc here's a freaking quack as far as I'm concerned. Tell Dr. Gizmo I'm still waiting for my $24 back … and I'm still waiting for my goddamned fax to go through.


Will Leitch is managing editor of The Black Table.