Facts about Fax

A slice of Retro-Tech written in October, 1989

It’s been almost a year now.  Someone asked me if I had a fax.  I disregarded the strange syntax and responded that yes, I could produce a fact or two if the situation demanded it.

Of course, I was quickly informed that the word is “fax” and that I was slightly impoverished and antiquated for not having one.

I have heard the term several times since.  A few days ago a telemarketer, making his usual dinner hour call, informed me that he could mail some additional information about the merchandise I didn’t want, or that he could “fax” it to me.  So now it’s a verb.

I’m not sure where the word comes from.  It is most likely a member of the ever-growing list of acronyms which are taking over the English language.  I do know what it is now. It’s a device which attaches to the telephone and acts like a printer. If someone has a document that he thinks you need, he can punch a few buttons on his fax and dial your number, and it will come out nicely and neatly on your fax.  It may be the latest rage.  On the other hand,  I’m not sure how much more printed matter I can take.

Every day our mailbox is full of mailers, flyers, catalogs, and brochure.  Newspapers are mounting up next to the La-Z-Boy.  I’m getting tons of magazines each month.  The last thing I need is reading material coming over the telephone.

Of course,  I didn’t think that we needed a VCR or microwave oven or word processor.  Now we have all three. It’s probably just a matter of time before will have to have a “fax” to keep up with the Joneses, who, by the way, are the Hays family.

The device will become a household necessity. The day may come when a telephone without a printer is like a refrigerator without automatic defrost or a television without remote control.  A phone that can be used only for talking will be archaic.

The telephone has come a long way since Mr. Bell used it to call Mr. Watson. When I was a boy, the phone was a heavy black, bakelite appliance that sat on its own table in a strategic part of the house.  We were on a party line and all of us knew never to pick up the phone unless it emitted a certain sequence of rings, specifically two shorts and a long.

The telephone was very businesslike. It was for adult use only.  Learning to dial the phone ranked right up there with learning to tie your shoes and crossing the street by yourself.  It was a rite of passage for a kid.

Phones today are plastic and toylike.  They come in a myriad of styles, shapes, and colors.  Sometimes they’re dressed up as cartoon characters. They may be disguised as football helmets or racing cars. They are personalized to reflect the tastes and moods of their users.  They can conduct delightful touchtone conversations with computers all over the country.  The modern phone is high-tech and convenient.  But it doesn’t seem to have the dignity it once had.

Maybe it’s the way it sounds.  The heavy old black model resonated with a bold reverberation of authority.  The new one? 

Well, it chirps or beeps or buzzes cheeps, or twitters or tweets or whistles or peeps, or warbles or whines, or lights up its lines, in colors galore, but a phone doesn’t ring anymore.