In the age of digital communication, fax machines seem as outdated as using a rotary dial phone or a cassette tape. Think about it: if a colleague asked you to fax them a document, you’d probably give them an incredulous look. But in Germany, fax machines haven’t been relegated to the history books just yet, research shows.
Digital advocacy group Bitkom surveyed 505 companies across the country and found that a whopping 82% of them still fax. Notably, one-third of the respondents said their use of the 180-year old technology is “frequent” or “very frequent.”
The intensity of use, however, is gradually declining. Last year, it was at 40%, down from 62% in 2018. Correspondingly, half of the companies now send faxes only rarely or occasionally, while 16% have stopped altogether. According to Bitkom, this data shows that faxing is — slowly but surely — nearing its end in the business world.
To fax or not to fax?
But regardless of the declining trend in use, one question still remains: why use fax machines — well beyond their heyday — instead of simply emailing or cloud sharing?
“What is most valued about the classic fax machine is above all its ability to clearly trace whether something has been sent,” said Nils Britze, Bitkom’s head of digital business processes.
Britze pointed to another factor as well: “Once a channel of communication has been established, it usually takes a while before it is completely replaced — even when much more comfortable and safer means of communication have emerged.”
From a business perspective this translates to the challenge of digitisation. According to Bitkom’s previous research, larger companies find it easier to go fully digital compared to small ones with less than 100 employees. Specifically, 42% of large companies surveyed had digitised their business processes in 2021, while 94% of smaller companies were still using paper.
From a personal perspective, postponing the fax machine replacement refers to what Jonathan Coopersmith, History Professor at Texas A&M University, calls “comfortable inertia.” That is, the people’s tendency to stick to the familiar, and in turn, their reluctance to change technologies.
So it seems that classic ol’ faxing still has some good years before becoming a relic of the past — at least in Germany.
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