Not long ago, your connectivity began with the AOL Matrix Orchestra greeting your every login. All the information you could possibly imagine at your fingertips, delivered to you at extravagant 56k warp speeds.
You communicated with loved ones with a pager despite your unwillingness to admit otherwise, searching for prehistoric pay phones—Google them, young users—to respond to these cryptic numeric messages called “pages.”
Buttons, yes, actual buttons were punched on phones. The term “touch screen” was a verbal cue that things were about to get real at your yearly physical.
And yes, fax machines served as a turbo carrier pigeon, a postage-stamp-less way to send important information in a matter of seconds.
While most of the items have been retired, off to live out their remaining days on the Island of Misfit Technologies, the fax machine has endured. It survived this gradual purge. Not only has it outlasted its fellow devices, but it now holds more significance than ever before thanks to the national holiday that is national signing day.
Our obsession with college football recruiting has pushed this ageless wonder into the yearly spotlight.
This spotlight typically results in thousands of grown men with stable jobs suddenly developing “flu-like” symptoms overnight, “forcing” them to stay home from work. The only remedy to said flu is a solid serving of intense national-signing-day television coverage and the recommended dosage of fax-machine fixation.
That’s what this day has become. But before there was an assumed 24-hour television marathon celebrating commitment Christmas, there was the fax machine. Before scouting sites had to upgrade to gymnasium-sized servers, the fax machine trudged along without interruption. And before social media changed this phenomenon entirely—for better and worse at times—the fax machine sat quietly in the corner, ready to deliver when called upon.
On national signing day, these machines will be anything but silent. All the visits, handshakes, verbal agreements and mounds of free swag culminate in a few signatures and the completion of a document. The fax makes it official.
Of course, with the rapid advancements in technology—seemingly a daily adventure—many are wondering whether the fax machine is approaching its final descent. Our obsession with digital everything is indeed a trend here to stay. Perhaps a “paperless” national signing day is only a matter of time.
This concept is something 247Sports' Steve Helwagen recently explored while assessing the current state of the perceived ancient process. It also reinforced the fact that faxing is just one of many options when it comes to letters of intent.
“It’s up to the member institution how they want to distribute the NLI to a prospective student-athlete,” said Susan Peal, who oversees the National Letter of Intent program. “Our member institutions populate the NLI electronically. They can e-mail it on to the athlete. He or she has to sign it, but it could also be an electronic signature. It doesn’t have to be pen to paper. It just has to be a replica of the signature.
“For years, we have not required a paper copy. If institutions wanted to use an electronic form to get it to the athlete and then to get it back from them, that is all perfectly fine.”
Perfectly fine is one thing. Budding trend ready to take off—putting our ol’ friend out of business—is another. And while it has become abundantly clear that paper is quickly becoming a fossil, the machine that spits it out is anything but.
Mike Pugh is the vice president of marketing for eFax, a company that specializes in electronic fax and the technologies poised to replace fax machines. Pugh’s job, in many ways, revolves around providing faxing options for both early adopters and the tech-savvy users craving digital delivery.
eFax offers alternatives to both methods, although Pugh—a USC fanatic and national-signing-day junkie—sees value in the fax machine’s presence on national signing day.
“They’re available, they’re easy to use and people are comfortable with it” Pugh said. “Under the circumstances, you’re inevitably dealing with paper and multiple signatures. That’s exactly what fax was made for.”
The process is remarkably simple, and the machines are also extremely accessible under the circumstances. With schools and other nearby public venues serving to celebrate this agreement, typically a fax machine is within convenient reach.
“A lot of these new technologies will come along to complement fax machines, and some types of agreements going forward will be better suited in strictly online formats,” Pugh said. “But for the foreseeable future, if a signature is bound to a piece of paper when it gets started, I think this will remain with faxes.”
Convenience is only a part of the equation. The spectacle and tradition that come with this yearly extravaganza are what really makes national signing day an event. From podium drama to the now infamous “Fax Cams,” national signing day has always been about much more than just simplifying a process.
In reality, it’s about the opposite: It’s taking the simple process of signing a piece of paper and transforming it into an unnecessary all-day parade with bands, fireworks and (hopefully) an occasional live animal.
We’ve turned the boring two-second act of signing a legal document into an entire day’s worth of coverage. Scratch that, a year's worth of coverage.
Now we’re worried about speeding up the final step to make this official?
If anything, we’re the ones who need technology assistance. Bring us to the Island of Misfit Technologies and put us right next to the pagers and AOL CD-ROMs we abandoned long ago.
The fax machine, meanwhile, can handle business while we’re gone, one momentous copy at a time.