22-year-old CNBC Make It staffer tries to send a fax

Yoni Blumberg | CNBC

I'm 22 years old and have never sent a fax in my life. In fact, I am surprised to learn that our all-in-one office printer-scanner even has faxing capabilities. So naturally I've been assigned the task of figuring out and then explaining how fax machines work.

From what I have gathered, fax is short for facsimile and it's essentially a medieval version of scanning. Scanning, meanwhile, is an outdated version of taking a picture of something with your iPhone and emailing it to yourself.

So, OK. I can do this.

When I first begin tampering with fax machine, it's unresponsive. I realize I need to scan my ID card, and then it comes to life like that creepy carnival fortune telling machine Zoltar in "Big," the one that transforms the kid into Tom Hanks.

I have to admit I am a little intimidated by all the setting options. I can adjust things like transmission density and image resolution.

I didn't even realize you could fax in color.

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But overall, unsurprisingly, it's pretty straightforward. I mean, I, a young millennial, can text with one hand and Snap selfies of my face crossed with Bernie Sanders' all while simultaneously being incredibly anxious. Grandpa's texting is easy.

You just put a document in the feeder — a small icon indicates which way is "face up" — dial in the fax number destination including extensions and international codes and send it off. You might then receive a confirmation page, if you have such a feature enabled.

Most computers have software now that allows you to fax documents directly from them without a separate machine, which sounds suspiciously like scanning.

But after some thorough investigation, I've discovered that faxing, not unlike my Uncle Morris, does not rely on Internet. You just need a phone line. (Also not unlike my Uncle Morris, who still has a house phone.)

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All the machine does is take a hard copy of some document, digitize it with an optical scanner and transmit it as an electric signal through a telephone wire to another location. The oldest version of this technology was patented in 1843 and actually predates the invention of the telephone, which is, itself, by the way, older than the light bulb. Fun, right?

The modern fax machine wasn't popularized until the 1980s. Although it has managed to lumber into the Information Age without going extinct, from what I can tell, the consensus seems to be that any advantages it offers are outweighed by its drawbacks.

Grandpa's texting is easy.

Sure, fax machines are hacked less often than computers and can be used in places that don't have access to the Internet. That's partly why a lot of businesses still use the technology, especially in health care, reports Vox. Many, if not most, medical documents are still sent as faxes. And according to Motherboard, law firms and government agencies continue to heavily rely on faxing as well.

But, as Vox points out, "fax machines are terrible at sending data. Busy signals interfere. Printouts are blurry. And sometimes faxes go to the wrong place entirely."

Maybe the technology is, and should be, on its way out.

Then again, in Japan, a country that is technologically advanced enough to manufacture humanoid robots to make up for their population decline, fax machines remain ubiquitous. So maybe not. But don't worry, fellow young people, they're not hard to figure out.

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Yoni Blumberg | CNBC
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