The rise and fall of the fax machine
I loathe fax machines, but the history of the technology is very instructive. For one thing, it’s very ancient — the underlying concept was patented 150 years ago by Alexander Bain; the reason it took over 100 years to become a mainstream technology has a little to do with technology but much more to do with politics (telephone networks tended to be owned by postal authorities until quite recently and it took deregulation and privatisation to loosen their grip on what went over the wires). I often cite this to engineering students, who tend to assume that technology is what determines what happens. But fax was an interim technology which was rapidly overtaken and outgunned by email. There’s an interesting Economist piece about its prospects.