Kill Your Fax Machine

HelloFax, the Web site that finally liberates us from the worst gadget on earth.

By Farhad Manjoo

Fax machine. Click image to expand.Some scholars credit the spread of fax machines as a factor in the downfall of the Soviet Union. Good for the fax. But that’s pretty much been the lone high point for the venerable device in the last 25 years. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, faxing has been a joke. It’s one of the most expensive, least flexible, and most annoying ways to send documents in the digital age. Everyone knows this—even, I’ll bet, the people who make fax machines. Faxing requires special equipment (the machine, a phone line), it’s stationary (I’m guessing you’ve never sent a fax from a plane), it wastes paper, and it’s a hassle. Yet for all its well-known limitations, faxing persists. How often are you asked by someone—your bank, your insurance company, your lawyer—to "please sign this and fax it back"? If it’s less than once a month, consider yourself blessed.

The main reason faxing lives on, of course, is because of another ancient and mystifying custom: signing a piece of paper to make it official. God only knows why this fetish persists. Many countries have laws allowing for electronic signatures on documents, but it’s the rare institution that will accept your click as proof of agreement. So it seems we’re stuck. As long as people want to see your scribble on a piece of paper, you need to have a fax machine, or at least a way to approximate one.

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