By: Chris O'Shea
The fax machine. What comes to your mind when you read those words? "Outdated." "Ancient." "Worthless." Maybe even "Not as cool as the copier because at least with the copier I could make pictures of my butt." Whatever the thoughts are, we highly doubt they're positive ones. America has been dissing the fax machine for years, but that's not the case in Japan, where the odd product is a vital piece in the lives of many Japanese citizens.
The fax reached its zenith in popularity around the early to mid 1990's here in the states. In fact, the last update to fax technology was in 1998. Since then, we've all been happy to log onto AOL and get our mail. We no longer had the patience to deal with the rejected transmissions and the annoying sound of a fax being sent out among the airwaves. But that's not how they do things in Japan.
According to The Washington Post, the fax has never been more popular in the nation. A recent survey said that a fax could be found in 59 percent of the homes in Japan. Compare that to the United States, which at the height of the fax fad only three percent of the nation's homes had one. In Japan, people still use fax machines to send party invites, business documents, letters, and much more. During last year's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, a fax was the first early warning system.
The theories on why Japan is still stuck on the fax are varied. Some experts put the blame at the feet of everyone, claiming that the country is simply slow to adapt to new technology, despite a rep otherwise. "It goes back to the famous theory that there are two Japans," Serkan Toto, a consultant for several Japanese tech companies, told the Post. "One is very efficient and highly productive. The other is where things are very slow and there’s barely any innovation. Information technology is in that second basket."
Another factor is words. Have you ever looked at Japanese, or tried to learn it? Yeah, it's insanely complex. Computers, therefore, have struggled to figure out an easy way to convert the words. As the Post notes, "The country’s language — a mix of three syllabaries, with thousands of complex 'kanji' ideograms — bedeviled early-age word-processing software." It was so bad that to this day, a lot of older people in Japan hand write letters because computers were too slow at picking up the language. A fax, with a simple amount of digits, was — and is — much easier to work.
A third support system for the fax is the fact that Japan's government regulates the Internet. When the Internet started picking up steam, Japan's officials kept prices high and speeds low, turning people away. Therefore most people opt to not even have the Internet in their homes. But phone lines — the one requirement for a fax — the Japanese have those.
As time goes by, the fax will certainly make way for improved communications devices. But for now, Japan is still in love with the relic from the 90's. And can we blame them? After all, we still listen to Pearl Jam.
[Pic via Flickr - USCPCS]