Dawn of The Information Age

The Fax Machine Was New and Phones Came in a Bag

Editor’s Note: The following article, written by then-freelance contributor, Andi Reynolds, first appeared in Tallahassee Magazine in January 1991.

Businesses today spend much time and money buying and selling information. The time it takes to send or receive that information has become as valuable as the information, itself. The ability to do business at the same speed as others has become a necessity, according to Gail Rudd, sales manager of the facsimile department at Advanced Business Systems.

This immediate and total communication “is the way big businesses are doing business now and always will,” Rudd says. “For small businesses to compete or do business with larger firms, they have to get into the system.”

The equipment making such total communication possible includes pagers, voicemail and facsimile machines.

Pagers have come into their own in the last few years. Previously associated with doctors’ emergencies and construction types, they are now found in executive suites and suits everywhere. They signal the user with either tone or vibration, giving the user the opportunity to act on information sooner rather than later.

Pagers used to be tone or voice only — you heard the beep and then had to find a phone to learn what the message was. Now the trend is toward alpha-numeric types that display messages. Some even have printer devices that can provide a hard copy of each message.

Memory, automatic redial, distribution of a single page to numerous recipients and nationwide reach seem exotic now, but will become standard in the next few years. Certainly one of the most captivating communication devices to come along is the “Dick Tracy” wristwatch pager, predicted years ago by the later cartoon creator Chester Gould and available now.

Also available and destined to change the way we do business are paging data services. In the stock market, you can subscribe to a service that will page you when the stocks you are interested in reach a certain price. You have already given your puts and calls and you have made a business transaction in the middle of something else. You are made aware of the transaction by a beep or a vibration on your pager.

Interested in sports? Need to know weather or flight information? Dependent on late-breaking news? These services are in development. Suddenly, no more radio or television dependency.

A big boon to the organ donation industry, pagers alert both donors and recipients when it’s time to move quickly. Most paging companies provide this service and the loan of pagers to very pregnant couples as a community service.

A distinctly non-community service of pagers came about with their use in drug running. Pagers are now banned in many schools, and some courts will cite for contempt if a pager beeps while court is in session. Pagers are also used to assure appropriate jail placement of just arrested juveniles, says Woodie Harper, a juvenile justice jail removal specialist with HRS.

Industry experts foresee the day when we will all carry pagers just as we all now wear watches. Thus far, the greater Tallahassee area has about 25,000 pagers, about as many as the national average would predict, according to Bob Chomat, vice president of Porta-Phone.

But pagers alone aren’t as useful as pagers in combination with cellular phones or voice messaging, common referred to as voicemail. Voicemail allows a sender to leave a message along your phone line or with your pager, no matter where you are and without additional equipment on your part. As with pagers, security or confidentiality is available with the use of codes, allowing only the intended receiver to hear the message or page.

Codes also provide mailbox “addresses,” permitting several individuals to use a single phone line or pager to receive private messages. Voice messaging can be programmed to stay on the line for a certain period of time, to reoccur with a given frequency or can be call forwarded. This feature, added to a pager and a cellular phone, means anyone can reach you just by dialing your local phone number. Voice response allows businesses or agencies to provide information electronically, freeing up personnel to do something besides answering routine questions on the phone.


Voice messaging is not without its critics. Gale Reynolds, salesperson for Hamilton Avnett Computer Division, longs to talk to a real person once in a while.

“You can really play some phone tag with a voice mailbox if someone doesn’t want to talk directly to you,” she says.

Others hate pushing lots of numbers trying to code in account data to find out payment status, due dates and loan payoffs. Indeed, reliability of transmission is one of the strengths pagers offer, so much that voice messages sent to pagers come through 99.5 percent of the time, according to Chomat.

When the message you need to communicate immediately is more complex than a pager or voicemail can manage, it’s time to use the facsimile machine. Faxes have been around since 1819, but the telephone lines for transmission weren’t around then, says Donna Waddell, Atlanta-based dealer/sales manager for Ricoh. Once the machines were standardized in 1980, the fax became a necessary piece of office equipment — it is obviously here to stay. Nationally, sales jumped 12 percent from 1988 to 1989 and 28 percent from 1989 to 1990.

Sales of fax equipment account for about 20 percent of total sales for several area firms. As with cellular phones, even if business people think that they are buying a toy, they never let go of them once they have them. Many executives are finding that doing business without one isn’t nearly as efficient as owning one.

Attorneys all over Tallahassee are using faxes to generate proof of signature on legal documents, and runners are finding the only business left is carrying larger packages. Federal Express, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service are finding that less and less of their business is overnight mail.

Faxes have changed the way that auto dealers do business, too. Credit approval is determined while the customer is in the showroom via fax. Telephone requests and approvals are no longer accepted business practices between banks and car dealers in some places, but the fax, however, is.

Faxes are being used in most every capacity. One bastion of reluctance is the FSU football field. Although most professional teams are using faxes to change plays during the game, the Seminoles will be using chalk and board for a while longer, according to Sue Hall, Coach Bowden’s secretary.

There is no end in sight for these machines that can double as low-volume copiers, answering machines and computer printers. Color faxing is in the works and plain paper faxes are becoming routine. The speed with which pages are transmitted is now into the tens per second and bound to go faster as laser technology in faxing makes its debut. Although connecting a cellular phone to a portable fax machine is now popular in some places, Rudd, Caldwell and Gerald Davis, Savin manufacturing representative for the South, say Tallahasseans have exhibited only mild curiosity thus far.

This is, indeed, the Information Age. And you have to play by the rules if you are going to stay in the game. The rule now is, “How can I do business with you if I can’t reach you or be reached  by you at the optimum time for both of us?” For the technophobes who shudder at the thought of being too accessible, remember that all of these devices, as self-sufficient as they may make your communication capability, are just devices. They have on-off switches. And, you have choices when it comes to acting on the information that comes your way.

Categories: History