When I had trouble sending a PDF attachment via email to my insurance agent a couple weeks ago, she suggested I fax it to her.
“What the what?” I said. “Who does that anymore? And what dinosaur operation actually has a fax machine on which to fax, heretofore?”
As it turns out, ahem, I do. When my rep suggested I fax her, my initial response was that I would have to go in search of a location to do so. Like Staples or the FedEx store. But as I glanced across my desk at my new-fangled printer display screen, I noticed for the first time in the nine months since I bought the damn thing that it has a gleaming “fax” icon, right next to “print” “scan” and “copy.”
Color me embarrassed. All I had to do was plug my phone line in the back of it and, BAM. Fax me up, Scotty.
I, for one, was elated when the need to fax in the workplace all but disappeared. See, I spent hours of my life, if not full fucking days, worshiping at the altar of a screeching, clunky fax monster, er, machine, early in my newspaper career. A big part of my job was sending and receiving questionnaire forms to support a gigantic, yearlong research project.
To obtain data about privately held companies, I had to send them a form, then harass them mercilessly until they gave me the information I needed. Pleasantly and professionally, of course. (This is how I honed my expert cat-herding skills, which still come in mighty handy today.)
At one point, my company graduated from a standalone device to fax-function-in-copy-machine, but all that meant was I didn’t have to change the toner or load paper as often.
The process was, at best, tedious and at worst, a pain in my ass. But, thankyoubabyJesus, the last time I had to fax anything was 2009. Until, well … you know.
Rekindling my relationship with this primordial technology got me to thinking about something my 20-year-old son, Ethan, said recently when I gave him a ride to work.
“You’ve got kids walking around today with iPhones at five years old. I was lucky to get a crappy flip phone when I was 12,” he observed.
Bless his heart.
Oh, child, you don’t even know. Born way back in 1972, I was 16 before I got my own phone. In my room. Not even a cordless… a landline that I (gasp!) shared with the rest of my family. If my friends wanted to call me, they actually had to have a conversation with my parents, the gatekeepers of my teen years.
The first “cell” phone I ever used was a car phone my mom had installed in her Volkswagen Passat in the early 1990s, complete with an antenna on the roof. It only worked when the car was on. For real.
Speaking of cars, be thankful for your warm butt, dude, ’cause I’m here to tell you the family Oldsmobile did not have seat heaters when I was growing up. Hell, at least one of them didn’t have seatbelts. (My mother would be mortified that I’m sharing this … at three years old, my brother often rode STANDING UP in the front passenger seat. The only “seatbelt” he had was Mom’s arm during a sudden stop.) And GPS? Fuggedaboudit. GPS in 1978 was a crumpled map in the glove box.
My family didn’t get a VCR or cable until I was 14. My brother and I had to walk across the room to change the channel on a faux-wood box with a plastic doo-hickey that sounded like a plastic zipper when you dragged it from channel 1 to (gasp!, again) 42. Or we lugged the box as close to the couch as its cord would let us. Which wasn’t very close, by the way.
Taping a show was high-tech stuff back then, but you couldn’t watch a different channel than the one you were recording. At least, my dad couldn’t figure out the necessary programming. (Side note: He still has hundreds of University of Kentucky basketball games from the late ’80s on VHS tapes in his garage. I found out later that the ability to record games was the only reason he allowed us to get a VCR in the first place.)
We had Atari and the very first Nintendo system. Son, you would be horrified at the graphics, but we thought they were super cool. In fact, your Nana used an enormous posterboard to draw out every frame of Frogger (or maybe it was Pong) to help your uncle beat the game. There were no online cheats or maps back then. We had to figure that shit out all by ourselves.
I was rewinding cassette tapes long into college. I think I finally bought my first CD player at 25. And yeah, I actually used both 8-track and laser disc players before they faded into pop culture.
TVs used to be so big and heavy that they sat on the floor. The Internet used to be slow. Your computer had to call a phone number (which would ring into oblivion more often than not) to connect to cyberspace. And “movies” were shown on a projector with reel-to-reel film!
At my first career job, in addition to hours spent faxing, my first computer did not have a mouse. It was all keystroke commands. Guess what else? For both school and work, I did my research in person at the library, using encyclopedias, microfiche and card catalogs. Google was not yet a website or a verb.
And, by the way, school was not called off because of the cold, and I swear we rarely had snow days. There was a well-used paddle in my elementary school principal’s office. I never felt its wrath, but just knowing it was there scared the shit out of me. Another scary thought: I never wore a bike helmet and I have the scar above my eye to prove it.
But I digress.
My faxing memories and Ethan’s comments made me realize how lucky I am to be savvy enough to effectively adopt most of the technological advances that seem to explode faster than corn kernels in an air popper. (Another relic for you, child o’ mine.)
I’m thankful that my generation is the first to be immersed in technology. My parents, the baby boomers, have had a harder time of it because they were raised in the age of typewriters and rotary phones.
(Side note: I want to humbly thank my mother for forcing me to take a summer typing class my junior year, after my high school had eliminated it from the curriculum. That’s one throwback skill everyone needs today.)
I may not know what the hell to do with Snapchat or a PS3, but I’ve taught myself to use both a PC and Mac, countless software and four different website CMS programs. I can sync all my devices and find my iPhone, and Lord knows how I would live without my GPS, DVR, Wi-Fi and Apple TV.
Part of me longs for simpler times, like the days I could go to a concert and actually watch the band on stage instead of seeing the performance through the person in front of me’s smart phone screen. But for the most part, technology is a good thing.
To Ethan’s point about five-year-olds carrying around iPhones, though, I do think there should be limits. Once you give a kid a phone, you remove yourself from his or her social loop. My parents always knew what I was up to, at least until I started sneaking out of my bedroom window in high school. Ahem.
People talked to each other in my day — my parents knew my friends’ parents, and they kept tabs on all of us. If I walked down the street to Jane’s house, I had to call my mom from her landline when I got there to confirm that I was not dead in a ditch. I suppose there’s a valid argument surrounding today’s phones and tracking your kid’s movements through GPS, but whatever.
All I know is, there’s something humbling about calling Jane’s house and having to politely ask her dad if she could come out to play. That kind of tiered interaction is missing today. When Ethan was a teenager, he would often mention friends I didn’t know existed, but whom he talked to all the time. I mean, why would I know them? They didn’t have to call the house.
Anyhoo, it’s clear just how much I have embraced current technology by my horrified reaction at my agent’s fax request. I can’t say I don’t know what I would do if I had to go back to only a landline, a typewriter and the library, because I DO know. I lived the first half of my existence without all of the devices and apps I use today, and life was just fine and dandy. But I didn’t know what I was missing, and that’s the difference.
When I had to revisit my old friend, Fax McFaxenstein, the other day, it felt oddly comfortable and repulsive at the same time. It’s good to know I have the capability to do it, sure. But screw that noise. As God as my witness, I will never use a fax machine again!
Unless my computer crashes, the Wi-Fi craps out and cell towers are down. Then all bets are off.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.