Semaphore Flags, Aldis Lamps, Faxing And
Other Stone-Age Technologies
This morning, before he hurriedly went into a meeting, my colleague asked
me to do him a favor and fax something for him.
"FAX something? Are you kidding? Why don't I just send a Marconi
wire?" How about smoke signals? Cuneiform tablets carried by donkey? A
heraldic messenger wearing a rampant lion on his chest, bearing a scroll
sealed with wax?
Now, it's not like I've never worked in the age of faxin my very first
job, telexes were still the order of the day. During the course of a high
school-era summer job at the company my Dad worked for, my teenage self
would frequently trot down to the mysterious telex room, written form in
hand to give to the fluffy, blue-haired women who invariably worked in telex
roomsdoing whatever it was one had to do to send a telex. The rise of the
fax machine forced the little blue-haired telex ladies into well-deserved
retirements, and suddenly, EVERYONE could communicate with the outside world
without having to use the telephone or postal mail. "Fax it to me"
became a cute catch-phrase that showed you were hipyou can still hear it
in movies from the mid-1980s.
I approached the fax machine gingerly (it's been a long time since I'd
done this), dropped the dead tree byproducts into the fax machine and dialed
the numbers, finally pushing the big green "send" button. As I
write this, it's still trying to go through, periodically giving me a
"dialed number busy" message every few minutes.
I'm still trying to recover from paper poisoning.
This experience made me start to thinkexactly how many other machines,
technologies and processes has the Internet relegated to Victrola status?
Obviously, we all have different preferred processes when it comes to
conducting day-to-day business and personal life. I'm the kind of girl who
puts her grocery list on her PDA and sends e-mails from her work address to
her home address to remind herself about doctor's appointments, bills to
pay, etc. Not everyone is like meI know there are people out there who
still regularly use "pho-to-cop-i-ers," printers and those
ink-bearing ball-pointed sticks with protective caps.
Next on my list of relics of the past come newspapers and weekly news
magazines. At this point, the only useful thing I can think of to do with
newspaper is train a puppy or kindle a fire. Why would I bother spending
money on newspapers when I can read everything from the Kathmandu
Post to the Namibia
Economist online? ThoughI realize that for some people, the
morning or Sunday paper is a calming ritual they wouldn't give up for the
world. I'm of the opinion that e-books will never fully replace paper books,
as e-books, convenient as they are, are soulless inventions that excise a
great deal of the magic from reading.
Photography is another area that will ultimately be trounced by digital
processes and the Internet. There will always be professionals, artists and
hobbyists who will never give up the traditional photographic processbut
for the rest of us, the baby-picture snappers, the vacation photographers,
the here's-my-friend-with-a-lampshade-on-his-head picture-takers, digital is
rapidly overtaking film. It's fast, it's easy, you don't have to pay for the
photos that didn't turn out well, you never have to buy film, and you can
share your pictures with your friend in Azerbaijan as fast as you can upload
We all know that video has had its daya few weeks ago, I was invited
to my parents' house for turkey sandwiches and a viewing party of old 8 mm
family films. After my father remembered how to thread the dusty projector,
we watched films of my extended family, including footage of myself, my
brother and my cousins as ankle-biters. I pointed out to my Dad that the
thirty-mumble-year-old film was beginning to fade and he really ought to get
them burned onto DVD. We discussed the fact that a couple of years ago, the
optimal course of action would have been having them transferred onto VHS.
"What's next?" asked my Dad. "If I get them burned onto DVD,
won't another medium come along and replace that?"
"There won't be another medium," I replied. "Your next
step is to digitize them and store them on your personal family Web
server." (Which means, of course, that he wouldn't have to wait until
someone came over to the house to embarrass me with babyhood bath-time
gurgle footagehe could gleefully share it with friends and relatives all
across the planet. Something to think about when you encourage relatives to
go digital with all that old family film.)
Additionally, in light of Election Day last week, voting is another
process that's been mentioned in the same sentence with the word
"Internet." This is a concept that I expect will move slower than
other potential applications, security issues being paramount. As we're all
beginning to realize, there is no such thing as a hack-proof system, and if
we thought recounts of hanging, dangling, spinning and dancing chads were
painful, imagine what it would be like to have to farm through a database of
150 million or so registered votes, recounting and verifying their accuracy.
In other areas, bill paying, budgeting, car registration renewing,
banking, shopping, working, researching, making "phone" calls via
VoIP, radio-listening, map-reading and navigation, vacation planning, travel
booking, music and movie downloading, money-raising, gambling, participating
in support groups, house-hunting, role-playing gaming, gossiping,
conferencing, dating, schooling and receiving medical treatment are just a
few of the areas that are feeling the increasing effects of the Internet.
Pretty soon, you'll be able to leave the house only for fun things.
On the flip side, the negative implications are rising as well: spamming,
harassing and stalking, problematic gambling, hate group recruitment and
proliferation, identity theft, money scamming, child pornography and
anonymous rumor-mongering are activities that have begun to thrive even more
due to the world's easy access to the rest of the world via the Internet.
The world has always had lowlifesit's just that now, they've become
Back to that fax, it didn't go through in the end. Anyone know where I
can find a reliable carrier pigeon?
The author, who doesn't really have any friends in Azerbaijan, can be
reached at email@example.com.