25 things vanishing in America, part 2: the fax machine

I can still remember the first time I saw a fax. Wow! Words could be transmitted over a phone line and printed out exactly on the other end. I couldn't wait to get one for my business with all the bells and whistles; color copier, computer friendly for integrating data bases, and group speed dial. I bought a top of the line fax for about $450, convinced that it would launch my business and keep the phone ringing.

After installing a separate phone line, spending hours loading phone numbers, and stocking it with paper, I was ready to go. I offered "FREE" tips to the readers of my columns to be delivered by fax. I sent faxes to businesses, insurance companies and friends. The machine was very active for about three years.

Then two years ago, I noticed that the only faxes I was receiving were junk faxes. Promises of cheap vacations, work at home schemes and enhancement of certain body parts that I didn't even have were showing up in my tray. While most businesses listed their fax numbers, very few requested faxes from me. They would simply e-mail instead and request documents or attach them.

So last year, I removed the dedicated line and just use the fax for outgoing. I use it about one time per month usually to argue with one of our insurance carriers. I haven't missed it. It had its problems even in the best of times; the busy signals, standing at the machine to wait for a confidential document, running out of paper and toner, and jamming paper. And the worst situation: getting an error message after sending a 20 page document.

I'm not alone. Fax machines are becoming obsolete as folks use e-mail, Blackberries, texting and other technology to communicate. The interlinking of e-mail, information, directories, etc., is so smooth that e-mail almost disappears as a separate function. In the next five years, more than half of all bills will be sent by e-mail as more and more companies move towards paperless systems.

I still have the fax machine gathering dust. The ink cartridges are empty and it is detached from the computer. When it dies completely, I will put it out at the curb.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.

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