2 February 2010
Who still uses a fax machine these days?
I'll tell you who does: football does. The transfer window closed yesterday with the usual range of partially interesting last-ditch deals, and each time the buying club has to fax the FA with the terms of the transaction.
It wouldn't surprise me if no other sector of society uses facsimile now. I fail to see why the FA insist on faxed contracts when one could easily be scanned, attached to an email and sent off in a far more reliable manner. Not to mention quicker. And better for the environment.
I haven't used a fax machine for probably ten years. They used to be quite good for radio stations as businesses often used to communicate this way. If you were unlucky, you'd get a loud 'beep beep beep' noise just as you opened the microphone, making it sound like an articulated lorry was backing into your studio. For a while "workday request"-type features were restricted to fax-only submissions, presumably so that the headed paper used by the company could establish their credentials as a business. And the first ever, er, "proposition" I got from a female listener was by fax*.
The news agency office where I worked in the mid 1990s used fax a lot, and many a morning would be spent uncluttering the machine after a forest's worth of useless press releases had been sent through overnight, eventually forcing the paper back into the machine and prompting a delicate removal process from whoever got in first. And every so often the fax machine would spit out its accounts, which would render the machine unusable for half an hour, in the same way that PCs are slowed down completely if the anti-virus software is doing its weekly cleanse.
The first time I ever heard of a fax machine was when reading an interview with 1980s breakfast television goddess (and she always will be) Kathy Tayler in about 1988. She was doing an "at home" type puffpiece with the TV Times and talked about her "fax machine spitting scripts and schedules at me all day". I didn't know what a fax machine was, but as Kathy Tayler had one, I wanted to know. For a good few years they were a sign of progress, upward mobility, just like the mobile phone that was bigger then than your laptop is now. Posh people and successful businesses had facsimile.
Telly embraced fax for a bit. There was an episode of Men Behaving Badly where Gary dumped Tony's girlfriend for him by fax. Del Trotter used a malfunctioning fax machine to see off longtime nemesis Roy Slater in an episode of Only Fools And Horses. Live debate and call-in shows eagerly touted their fax numbers.
I suspect a lot of offices may still have fax machines but absolutely never use them and can't often remember the number. Email has, surely, rendered the fax machine obsolete. Yet the FA relies on this outdated, clumsy method of communication to see business in their game is done properly. So it's not just the style of English football that's outmoded and in need of modernisation; it's the technology used by the authority that runs it, too.
*The answer is no.