Why I bought a fax machine

Actually, I didn’t realise I had bought a fax machine until the laser printer I knew I had bought turned up and I read on the packaging that it was also a fax machine.

(Fax is perhaps the most disruptive technology I’ve seen rise and fall in my time as an adult – I last used one in 2005 as far as I can recall but only 15 years earlier they were seen as cutting edge – but no matter…)

Are printers like fax machines in another way too? Destined to all but disappear as the tyranny of the screen grows ever stronger? The reasons that motivated me to buy the laser printer (and not just another cheap inkjet that produces shoddy output and falls apart after a few months) make me think not.

  • Paper is much more flexible than a screen – try scribbling a note on your screen and see how that goes.
  • Paper is the ‘rest energy’ form – it’s true that printing a page takes a lot more energy than clicking on a HTML link, but paper is more or less the zero energy, zero technology form of reading something – it’s generally easier to do than reading something on a screen (and if you drop a page you don’t generally risk losing you ability to read either until you buy a new set of eyes).
  • Paper’s flexibility makes it easier to see links – this is a killer application for paper in my field of software engineering (though maybe not all engineers would agree) – you can see much more information at once.
  • Too many screens aren’t really very good for reading – too many screens on small devices just aren’t very good for reading text. When we print something we generally print it at a size that’s optimised for reading.
  • Screens tire your eyes in the way that paper just doesn’t.

Getting a laser printer as opposed to an ink jet feels like a bit of an indulgence but as every other cheaper printer we’ve had over the years has generally fallen apart quickly I am hoping it is going to deliver long-term satisfaction.

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