It’s a paradox echoed across sectors such as real estate and financial services, where fax machines continue to whirl away despite being shunned by many as an archaic technology.
Others have remained loyal to the machine but updated it for the modern age, adopting technology that allows faxes to be sent and received in electronic formats.
“Society is amazingly complacent,” says Kathryn Brohman, an associate professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. “You think about inertia, always doing it the same way, and every doctor’s office had a fax machine and every pharmacy had a fax machine and the infrastructure was all there.
“It’s the whole idea of ‘If it’s not broken, why fix it?’. But it broke in Covid.”
She points to the Canadian province of New Brunswick, where a bottleneck of around 1,500 faxes reportedly left residents waiting days to find out if they had tested positive for Covid-19. “Fax machines don’t scale. It’s either the line is open or not,” she says. “There was a complete backlog of busy signals and they just couldn’t handle the capacity that came in through Covid.”
Months earlier fax machines had also come under fire in Toronto, blamed by public health officials for significant delays in the processing and reporting of results. The response was a new system, unveiled earlier this year, that slashed the number of laboratory results received via fax to around 10% of the total, says Vinita Dubey, a spokesperson for Toronto Public Health.