Chances are good that when you think of faxing nowadays, you’re either vaguely remembering a clunky machine, or you think of it in its more modern form, online faxing. But there was a time when fax machines were ubiquitous, and they were cool, man (OK – maybe not cool, but cutting edge.)
Here’s a glimpse back at faxing’s glory days in pop culture: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Faxing isn’t painted in a very friendly light in this 1990 United Airlines commercial, but it is presented as a modern technology that’s changing the way people do business. Wonder what this guy would have to say about texting and email? Speaking of changing the way businesses operate and interact, the World Wide Web had just been invented one year before this commercial.
If Twitter had been around, Michael Jordan’s “I’m back” announcement surely would have hit record retweets. But since he made his comeback to the NBA in 1995, the message was released via fax. 1995 was also the year of Microsoft’s Windows 95 release, which turned out to be one of the most popular operating systems of all time. The promotion for the release went all out, including a 30-minute “cyber sitcom” promotional video featuring Friends stars Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry, and lighting on the Empire State building to match the Windows logo.
Punk rocker Iggy Pop faxed a journalist from Plazm Magazine to expand on an interview they’d just done together in 1995. In that fax, he made a number of statements, including these gems:
- “Our gods are ?!$%holes.”
- “A revolution is coming, and in reaction, a Stronman will emerge.”
- “Successful artists live like gods. They are remote and useless.”
- “Everything sucks. Don’t bother me.”
Also in 1995, a British pop culture magazine got in touch with theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking via fax, asking him what scientific formulas could potentially allow someone to time travel. Hawking faxed back his cheeky reply: “Thank you for your recent fax. I do not have any equations for time travel. If I had, I would win the National Lottery every week.”
Faxing was a big part of Jerry Maguire since Tom Cruise’s character worked in the professional sports industry, where contracts and commitments were regularly faxed. If you’ve seen this 1996 film, you might be familiar with the scene in which Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character is waiting with Tom Cruise by a fax machine for a contract offer. They hover over the machine as it laboriously spits the page out, pouncing on it once it’s done printing. While it’s hard to imagine that kind of wait for information nowadays, the fax machine does still play a prominent role in the college football world.
Who can forget the scene when three of Office Space’s main characters acted out something almost every office worker wanted to do – smashing their combo fax/printer into smithereens. The office culture mocked in 1999’s Office Space was about to change; broadband had come out in 1997, enabling telecommuting, and in 1999, Wi-Fi and the infamous Blackberry became part of working life, too.
Faxing shows up in more recent pop culture, too. When England’s Prince William’s engagement to Catherine Middleton was first announced in 2011, save-the-date notices were sent from Buckingham Palace by fax to senior members of Europe’s royal families.
Iggy Pop, Stephen Hawking, and the Buckingham Palace fax examples come from MetroFax.