Just the Fax

Spring sun for the Hen

This important news item may have escaped your notice in the past couple of weeks, and I completely understand why. There have been many news-worthy things going on than journalism space to recount them. Some prince and his not-good-enough-to-be-a-princess wife and their not-allowed-to-be-a-prince son (except when he will be, which will happen when said prince’s father becomes king) were sucking all the words off the tabloid presses. Then, there was that whole anniversary of an official pandemic, which will hopefully be the only official pandemic we will experience in our lifetime, especially those of us old enough to qualify for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Add to that the momentous announcement that one can now dine outdoors at a restaurant in Toronto and environs (but do not confuse being able to dine outdoors in March and wanting to dine outdoors in March, especially if you qualify for the AstraZeneca vaccine). However, this apparently under-the-radar, ground-breaking event eminently deserves to be brought to your attention. Here it is. A scant two decades into the 21st century, the Ontario government is euthanizing its fax numbers.

There was a time, back when I wore shoulder pads the size of aircraft carriers, when fax machines were as essential as the two-hour lunch. The first ones I encountered were powered by an eight-and-a-half-inch wide roll of thermal paper that cost about $200 and had to be threaded delicately between two horizontal clamps. If you loaded it backwards, the fax output, which printed a continuously undifferentiated stream of pages, arrived as ghostly images looking like erased erasable typing paper. If you loaded it the correct way, the pages arrived like the contents of Harry Potter’s Defence Against the Dark Arts textbook: legible for exactly two minutes before it transmuted into invisible ink. Because of this, faxed documents had to be photocopied immediately upon receipt, to preserve the legitimacy of their important business purpose. This required using the paper guillotine to separate the pages, which had an unfortunate habit of decapitating baby fingers. Each page immediately curled up like a cinch bug, impossible to convince to lie flat. Despite this, everyone except me and my fingers were in love with the fax machine.

Then came the most important step in the evolution of the fax, the ability to use regular photocopy paper. This was good because the office fax machine usually lived in the photocopy room. This was bad because it corresponded with the democratization of faxing. No longer was urgent business the sole reason for faxing. The urgent reason for faxing became any old reason. The first person entering the photocopy room in the morning (me) had to wade through several reams of junk faxes on the floor. Takeout menus. The next sure-bet stock. Free cruises. Leaky basements. Buy one get one free. And on and on until the paper reservoir was gasping for air.

Then this thing called email arrived. Documents, important or not, could fling themselves around the world with abandon, defying the space-time continuum. The fax machine tried to pivot its business model (long before pivoting was a daily occurrence) and became a one-stop shop for copying, scanning, and if imagination was sorely limited, faxing. And perhaps what we are seeing now is an awakening of the Provincial government’s imagination. And if you believe that, I have a sure-bet stock tip for you. What we’ll actually see is a gush of coveted 416 numbers flowing back into the telecom ether. But don’t be tempted to snap one up unless you want lonely fax machines pinging you every five seconds, wondering why the government has forsaken them. A fleet of space junk hoping WALL-E will show them some love. Or at least order some burgers.    

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