Japan Goes the Way of the Dodo & Still Supports Fax

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Tom Keating
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Japan Goes the Way of the Dodo & Still Supports Fax

I've admired Japan for their innovations since the mid 1970s, including the Sony Walkman, the Sony portable CD player, and how their took on the American automobile juggernaut to offer smaller, more fuel efficient, and yes, more reliable cars. While Japan was killing American companies with their superior consumer electronics, I couldn't help but admire their ingenuity.

Well, to my shock and horror I just read a NY Times piece claiming that fax is alive and well in Japan and in fact the Japanese are reticent to ever give it up. Say what? In the age of email, social media, online banking, etc. the Japanese people don't want to give up fax?

According to the NY Times:
Last year alone, Japanese households bought 1.7 million of the old-style fax machines, which print documents on slick, glossy paper spooled in the back. In the United States, the device has become such an artifact that the Smithsonian is adding two machines to its collection, technology historians said.

The article even goes on to explain how one company, which delivers traditional bento lunchboxes tried to modernize by taking orders online and getting rid of fax. Apparently, sales quickly plummeted.

First of all, who faxes their food orders? By the time you find a piece of paper & a pen, then hand-write out your order, then walk to the fax machine to fax it, key in the fax number, wait for the fax machines to negotiate & transmit (60-90s), I could have called a take-out or delivery restaurant and be done already. Not to mention Japanese letters take longer to write than the English alphabet.

Further, unless the fax machine has speed dials to your favorite restaurants, you have to look up the number as well, where on my cell phone they're in my contacts or I can quickly look it up on the Internet. This just does not compute. Do the Japanese not like to talk on the phone? I don't believe that's the case and surely, the Japanese, with one of the fastest broadband connections in the world like to be online, so why not order online? Heck, I have a Five Guys Burger & Fries app on my iPhone that lets me order from my phone.

I'm reminded of my co-worker Robert Hashemian's infamous "Fax is dead" article, which had some irate responses from fax industry insiders. Rich Tehrani had this to say about Robert's article in 2006:
Years ago Robert Hashemian, who currently employs the position of Webmaster at TMCnet wrote an article "Fax is Dead." This of course didn't sit well with Maury Kaufman who at the time made his living as a fax analyst. Maury sent TMC a scalding letter which we ran titled Hashemian is Wrong which we ran in one of TMC's publications -- I just can' recall which.Well whether Hashemian was right or wrong is debatable but a number of years after Hashemian wrote his articles Kaufman gave up being a fax analyst. So when Maury jumped ship I figured Hashemian was right.But you know what, after meeting with MultiTech Systems this morning and Paul Kraska in particular I learned that the company thinks fax is alive. I thought -- wait till I tell Robert. Boy is he going to be upset.
The NY Times article explains why faxing is still popular in Japan. "Japan quickly dominated global fax production, making 90 percent of the tens of millions of machines built, according to the Communications and Information Network Association of Japan, an industry group that includes fax makers. But its very success has made the fax a hard habit to kick. The demographics of aging have also played a role, because the generations that lived through the nation’s glory years have clung to their faxes. In fact, until 2009, the number of fax machines in private dwellings was still rising, a reflection of the dwindling numbers of young people embracing new technologies, experts say."

Don't get me wrong, I think fax still has a role to play, but it appears the Japanese are clinging to their fax machines way more than a tech-savvy culture should. I recently had to fax something and I got rid of my home's all-in-one fax/printer/scanner years ago. I just have a color printer now with no fax capabilities. At times I have not even had a landline (cell phones only) to be able to fax. In fact, in America many people are ditching their landlines, which means faxing from home isn't possible.

So how did I fax the document? Well, I whipped out my iPhone, took a picture of the page, then emailed it to a cloud-based fax provider called MyFax, which transmitted the fax for me. dancing No big bulky fax machine or desktop scanner on my home desk needed - just my cell phone. I've also directly emailed photographed documents for better quality resolution than fax.

So is fax dead & extinct? I'm afraid I'm going to have to go with Robert Hashemian on this one. Fax is dead - or at least fax is changing from its traditional use and roles. Perhaps "dead" is too strong a word, since email and other technology hasn't entirely killed fax. More like fax, is but a shadow of former self (on its death bed?), but apparently, Japan hasn't gotten the memo - or in this case the fax.

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