The rise and fall of the fax

I opened up a box of old documents this week and found a whole bunch of photos and notes from family & friends. It was like opening up a time capsule.

One thing I learnt from the box was how quickly our communication methods have changed over the last 20–30 years.

I found letters and faxes. Yes, faxes.

I found the faxes fascinating because it reminded me how humans wanted to communicate a lot quicker than via the mail system — and how sometimes we didn’t want to bother being burdened with the expensive cost of an STD ‘trunk’ phone call. (Or maybe people just didn’t want to talk to each other via the phone).

According to my time capsule, faxes peaked as a main source of communication in Australia between 1992 and 1995.

At the time, sending someone a fax, was just like sending someone a letter or telegram — but, quicker! (Plus, a lot more efficient than a telegram…the popularity of the telegram died off way before our generation).

Text messages via a mobile phone were still about 3–4 years away. In the early 1990’s people could send a short “text message” via an expensive subscription-based service called a pager. Working in radio, the only people important enough to carry a pager were either the sales director or engineer.

By way of an example of early 90s communication, the fax in this Facebook post was sent to me by my radio friend Sue Carter. She was clearly frustrated that each time she tried to phone me at my workplace, I wasn’t there. So, while she was working at 2MC in Port Macquarie — she wrote-up a note on her computer, printed it off and sent it via fax to me at radio station 2XL in Cooma.

Nowadays, if Sue wanted to find out if I had made a “new career direction”, she would simply phone my mobile or send me a message via Messenger.

This facsimile message was a less-than-private way of communicating. The messages were mostly sent between workplaces which meant your colleagues would most likely read them before they handed them over to you.

Additionally, according to the notes I found in my time capsule, emails appeared to become more common in late 1995 / early 1996. Again, this is another reason why faxes and letters died in the mid-90s.

(I also stumbled across an old 1995 memo where the radio station engineer in Darwin was informing staff where on the internet they could find the 2DayFM website — I’ll post that memo here next week when I’m back near the ‘time capsule’ — I think at one stage in his memo, he mistook an email address for a web address).

Other documents I found reminded me that I bought my first mobile phone in 1995.

I also remember sending and receiving text-only messages via a mobile phone in about 1999.

And, here we are now — it’s 2019. Communication has changed a lot. The only phone calls I receive are either from someone in the generation above me (ie mum & dad) or from a dodgy overseas call centre trying to sell me a product that I don’t want.

Nowadays, most of my audio voice calls are made via a message app owned by Facebook Inc. I don’t use old fashion text messages much anymore — although I do get spammed by businesses a lot via text message. For text-based messages, I mostly use messaging apps owned and operated by Facebook Inc.

It makes me think about Australia Post and Telstra who have traditionally made money from being right in the middle of how us Australians communicate. Are their business models too out-dated? Should they instead fully just become a supplier of technology and courier trucks for American companies like Facebook Inc and Amazon Inc?

Before I finish, I would like to publicly thank my good friend Sue Carter for her facsimile that she sent to me at 3:29pm on Thursday 25th May 1995. I clearly liked the message enough to have kept it for 24 years! And for the record, I spent two weeks filling in for our newsreader Marguerite McKinnon. So, to answer Sue’s question, at the time I hadn’t made a “new career direction.”

Footnote: While I was compiling and presenting the news for Cooma, I visited the local court to get some stories. (I recall seeing a media release from the local Nationals MP on the fax machine, and thought “that’s some really boring news, I’m going to the courthouse for some more interesting stories!”). Anyway, one of the stories from the courtroom made it on our news the next day. In the report, I named a local drink driver, and the sentence that the magistrate handed her. After the news, the general manager called me into his office — “Brenden, can you bring me that drink drive story that you read on the air.” He told me to never put to air court stories unless he approved them…”this lady is a well known member of our community…” — My response: “Well, that’s news isn’t it?”


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