BY MADDIE TOPLIFF
The telephone rings, but there’s no one on the other line. No person, anyway. All to be heard are a couple of clicks and a few long beeps. Is this an alien invasion? A secret message from beyond? No, it’s a fax machine!
A sample of Drake University faculty participated in a poll dubbed “The Cold Hard Fax” this past weekend, allowing data to be collected and analyzed to pinpoint the degree of the machine’s usefulness in 2018.
Some form of a fax machine has been around for almost two whole centuries. It is most commonly used today for sending and receiving a physical picture or scan of a document to and from another location with the use of phone lines.
Faculty answered questions about where they use a fax machine (at work or at home), how much they use it on a monthly basis, the personal reasons for or against using a fax machine, their comfort level with having this data shared in an article and whether they’d be willing to be contacted for a follow-up quote.
Out of 13 responses, a majority of nine faculty members said they don’t use a fax machine here at work. Additionally, eight of those nine faculty members said they don’t use a fax machine at home either, leaving five loyal faxers. The anti-faxers had the opportunity for further feedback where they could cite certain reasonings.
The eight naysayers say they just plain prefer PDFs, which essentially cut out the need for a fax machine altogether, allowing for documents to be received quicker through email.
Four out of the eight faculty also said that fax machines are time-consuming.
Heidi Mannetter, associate professor of practice in marketing, recalls that when she was in the banking business, faxes were a lot more popular, but with the innovation of email and PDFs, why would you prefer a fax?
Three out of the eight faculty – all yielding from different fields of academia – are unsure of where to find a fax machine. Upon visiting Drake’s Information Technology Support Center, it was revealed that “several” of the large printers found in campus locations such as Olmsted, Cowles Library and the underclassmen residence halls also double as fax machines, according to the center’s Student Support Technician Lead and Drake, junior Jake Hackman.
While the majority of people polled have left the fax machine in the past, one third of faculty still trudges to it at least once a month, with one faculty member using the machine at least six times a month.
Dinah Smith, associate professor of English at Drake University, said that her fax machine needs are less frequent than once a month, but more frequent than never. She said she uses fax machines once or twice a year, especially for when something calls for a signature that isn’t attached to a recommendation letter.
Most recently, however, Smith found herself reaching for the fax machine for necessary conference organizing, where there was no room for error.
“When I was the programming chair for a conference, the international attendees required faxes to get visas as well as secure their university permissions for funding,” she said. “The hard copy still carries some weight in that milieu.”
Mannetter also concluded fax machines still do heavy lifting in certain employment fields, especially when legal documents are involved. Email may be easier, but faxes and tangible copies are sometimes more secure.
It sounds like fax machines haven’t been rendered completely useless yet. Legal documents and other miscellaneous, important forms will save fax machines from extinction at least until a more efficient but just as trustworthy alternative comes along.