Business | Technology

Fax to the future

Fighting the Luddites on the Interweb

  • Scott Shuey
  • Published: 11:16 November 7, 2012
  • Gulf News

The good news first: I’ve finally discovered time travel. The bad news: it doesn’t work for people, and it’s only going to take you back to the ‘80s. More good news: I think this technology can be used to fight Luddites. It’s not quite on the level of the Terminator, but I’m still working on that.

But let’s back up first.

This company, which apparently wants to expand its e-commerce revenue, wants me to use technology developed in the 1960s to send it pictures of my credit card, ID and personal banking information. What’s next, demanding I send my birth certificate using a dial-up modem?

My discovery came when -- following the recent victory of the San Francisco Giants in the World Series – I tried to order a Giants jersey online from a store in the US. I’ve been buying from Casualmale.com for years (because who else is going to send me a 4XL jersey or size 48 shoes). Ordering from them has usually been a pain in the rear. They only accepted US credit cards, and I had to ship my purchases to New York where Aramex would pick them up and bring them to the UAE.

My wife recently ordered some pants this way. I’m wondering if they aren’t now floating their way past the Empire State building.

However, in a belated effort to enter the global economy, Casualmale.com, which is a sub-site of DirectionXL.com, recently started to accept international credit cards and offering direct international shipping. Pop-up ads reminded me of this every time I went to their site. I decided to give it a try, only to discover that actually switching from a US to a UAE credit card raised alarm bells with their finance department. They requested (requested being a polite way of demanding) that I fax them a photocopy of my credit card – front and back, a copy of my credit card statement, and a copy of a picture ID.

Fax?

It took me a few minutes to absorb that. This company, which apparently wants to expand its e-commerce revenue, wants me to use technology developed in the 1960s to send it pictures of my credit card, ID and personal banking information. For the record, they asked for this information after they billed my credit card. What’s next, demanding I send my birth certificate using a dial-up modem?

Who to blame? Answer: Luddites, also known in some circles as bureaucrats and accountants, that’s who. People who mistakenly think that paper is safer in a digital age.

This is an idea that only a bureaucrat could come up with. It’s obvious they’re worried about identity theft, and they probably think I should be happy that they’re trying to protect me. Casualmale.com even requested (demanded) that I not send my credit card details to them in an email, but faxing them a picture of my credit card is the wrong way of going about it. Or, more likely, customer service just has to take a back seat when money is on the line, especially when the money is not coming from inside the US.

OK, here’s where the time travel bit comes in. I started searching for some piece of software that would allow me to fax directly from my computer. I found a company called HelloFax, which allows me to fax documents directly from the cloud.

I know. I hate actually having to say that. Cloud computing is a cliché that is quickly rising to the level of other over-used jargon, such as a “synergy” or “outside-the-box.” Generally, anyone who says “cloud computing” really means a place to store your illegally downloaded movies. But to be fair, HelloFax does not use the word “cloud.” They just call it like it is: the ability to fax documents you have stored in Google Drive, DropBox, and a number of other places usually used for storing illegally downloaded movies.

The result is that instead of having to collect my documents and drive to the mall to pay someone to use an obsolete piece of office equipment, I just scan everything and and then upload it to Google. HelloFax is building into Google Drive, which means I just right-click on the document in Google, select HelloFax, type in the number and hit send. They even send me an email confirmation. There’s nothing that says time-travel like the ability to use modern global networking software to recreate an 80s-era print out.

It didn’t even cost me anything, since I got 15 free pages of faxes just for signing up and Tweeting about it.

Just how long a company based on providing technology to keep the technology incompetent at bay will last is an open question, but all the same, it’s time to see a technology providing real-world applications for “cloud computing.”

As for accountants at casualmale.com, I hope they’re still using that crappy thermal fax paper that curls up into a tight roll that they can never get to lay flat. They deserve it.

Gulf News

Blog: Connection

Douglas Okasaki writes about media and more

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