Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mysterious Disappearance

When’s the last time you had to fax something to somebody? I had to do it a few weeks ago, and was surprised that the business that I was dealing with wouldn’t let me scan the document and e-mail it to them. I suspect in a few days I may have to fax my property tax bill to my mortgage escrow company, unless this year they’ve become enlightened enough to allow me to do it via e-mail.

Fax machines were the rage in the 80’s and 90‘s. Remember that crappy paper you used to have to use - the stuff that would get all curly? Plain-paper fax was the next big step, but now - it’s so, well, so 90’s to fax anything.

For about 50 bucks today, you can get a half-way decent machine that will scan your documents, photos, or whatever to JPEG or PDF files, and with a few more clicks you can send whatever you’ve scanned via e-mail. To use a fax machine at home, you pretty much need a land-line.

Do you have an answering machine? That’s another thing going the way of the five-cent cigar and the buggy whip. Nearly every telephone service provider will give you voicemail for a couple cents a day, whether it’s a land-line or wireless phone.

How about a phone book - do you still have one of those monstrosities around your house, in a place where you can actually get at it? For professional reasons, I had to have a land-line re-installed in my home a month or so ago, and a couple days later AT+T dumped about 30 pounds worth of paper on my front porch. Phone book. Dinosaur.

While we’re on the topic….how about the Rolodex? Got one on your desk at work? Didn’t think so. Everything’s electronic now, and any decent computer office program has a “contacts” function that’s superseded the once-ubiquitous Rolodex.

Here’s something else that’s rapidly disappearing…the folding paper map. Even if it’s not built into your car, GPS is available on so many devices now that paper maps are becoming a thing of the past. Unless you count printing out directions from MapQuest or GoogleMaps on your computer.

When I lived in Los Angeles a couple decades ago, I carried a couple big, thick, spiral-bound Thomas Brothers maps with me everywhere - one for L-A County and one for Orange County. Seemingly everybody had a Thomas Brothers map. The business electronics firm I briefly managed back then sold them like hotcakes. They were about 30 bucks apiece. We also sold a lot of fax machines.
And we sold photocopy machines. We were an Adler-Royal dealer, and back around 1985 Adler-Royal did a survey and found that the word most frequently associated with “photocopier” was “jam”.

We also sold “typewriters”. Remember them?

One more thing I hope is on the road to obsolescence is stamps and envelopes you have to lick. I buy only the “forever” stamps, and only the kind that you peel off and stick on. And I buy only the “self-sealing” envelopes. I hate slicing my tongue open on those things! Maybe someday the greeting card folks will get the message.


  1. Good stuff. Proves you are older than dirt.

    BTW, the single largest promoter of typewriters is Gummint. Most of their forms CANNOT be filled out w/computers and many MUST be typed for legibility.

  2. Some of that stuff isn't entirely obsolete. I use a rolodex for computer passwords and user names for e-commerce sites, etc. It's a good idea to keep those off your computer in case some password stealing or keylogging malware gets in there. Or if your hard drive decides that Tuesday is a good day to die. And I like to keep paper maps around for planning routes, and possible alternate or scenic routes (plus I took some Cartography in college, so Hey, I just like maps). GPS is great for a lot of things, but I remember the summer floods of 2008, when I-39/90 was flooded. I saw a news report where summer travelers had scooped up all the road maps at stores along the way because their GPS devices couldn't cope with the interstate being closed.

  3. I am a true Luddite. I have all of these dinosaurs either at work or at home. All it takes is one fried hard drive, one satellite failure when you most need it to work, a dead battery, and/or one power failure to make you appreciate having these at your fingertips. Or a flood, as the previous poster indicated.

    I will never own any GPS system until I can find one that gets me there as efficiently as reading a map does.

    I asked one of our younger employees to type a State form last week, and she simply said "I don't know how." What is the correct response to THAT statement these days?

    We still send faxes of sensitive material, particularly HR and credit card information to places without secure websites, mainly in Europe.

    I don't mind being an anachronism one bit. I'm the one everyone comes to when their new-fangled doodad screws up.