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Anomaly: Fax lives on in Japan

In the late 1980s, I supervised a Masters thesis on the emergence of the fax. Those days, fax was big. Among the drivers she found were the significance of Japanese corporate culture and ideograms. It appears that the Japanese who were then the most enthusiastic adopters have not given up on it yet while the rest of the world has.

Japan is renowned for its robots and bullet trains, and has some of the world’s fastest broadband networks. But it also remains firmly wedded to a pre-Internet technology — the fax machine — that in most other developed nations has joined answering machines, eight-tracks and cassette tapes in the dustbin of outmoded technologies.

Last year alone, Japanese households bought 1.7 million of the old-style fax machines, which print documents on slick, glossy paper spooled in the back. In the United States, the device has become such an artifact that the Smithsonian is adding two machines to its collection, technology historians said.

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