For Children of Faxes, Angst is Slow Rolling Out

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  Mike Adamzuk is only forty years old, but he suffers from bladder control problems that normally don’t affect men until they are much older.  “Excuse me,” he says as he gets up from the booth in which he is being interviewed by this reporter, “I’ve got to go again.  It’s . . . all part of my story.”

Adamzuk is a participant in a longitudinal study of men and women of approximately his age who are showing physical symptoms that include urinary incontinence, eczema, and in extreme cases, hair falling out in clumps.  “We did extensive background work and developed a profile in which one common factor jumped out at us,” says Dr. Marcia Overholt, who is leading the study.  “We’re calling these people ‘Children of Faxes.’”


“*sniff*  This smells awful!”

 

The subjects, who responded to discreet advertisements placed in Boston-area newspapers, were all children when telefacimile or “fax” machines, became common items of office equipment in service industries.  Their fathers worked long hours, either as hard-driving young men staying late at the office to work their way to the top or in sales positions that required extensive travel.  As a result, they bought home fax machines as an innovative way to say goodnight to their children while their wives stayed home, cooked them dinner and got them to bed.  “It was viewed as a clever ‘high-tech’ way to be an office drone and still make time for your kids,” says industrial psychologist Morton Voltz.  “We are only now beginning to comprehend the damage that was done to these poor souls.”


“Watson, come here–I’m sending you a tele-facsimile transmission!”

The telefacsimile was invented by Scottish mechanic and inventor Alexander Bain, who described his device in an 1843 patent application as “improvements in producing and regulating electric currents in electric printing and signal telegraph machines, which will be constantly jamming, forcing secretaries to interrupt their smoking breaks.”  The first “fax” machines were expensive, costing the current-day equivalent of a year’s salary for a yeoman laborer, and the machines did not become affordable until the early 1980s, when Adamzuk and others like him were toddlers.

“It was so wonderful,” says Cheryl Diblasio, who grew up in the Saxonville neighborhood near here.  “The machine would beep, you’d smell the odor of the toner, and you’d see ‘Hi Cheryl and Bobby, Daddy loves xaykoekalu . . . . kanolan—-.”  She stops for a moment to get her emotions under control, then adds, over a lump over her throat, “then the paper would jam and my brother Bobby would run crying to my mom.”

The first transoceanic telefacsimile, a photograph of President Calvin Coolidge, was sent by the RCA “photoradiogram” machine from America to London in 1924.  Continental Europeans were slow to adopt the new technology despite this demonstration of its viability.  “It will never catch on,” said Pierre-Louis Renault, France’s Minister of Commerce.  “Who needs a machine that sends you pictures of Calvin Coolidge?”


Children reading early fax of “My Friend Flicka.”

 

Surprisingly, the triumph of email, pdf and other more versatile electronic document transmission formats is no consolation to those  who made do with early fax machines as surrogate fathers.  “My dad did the best he could with the technology we had,” says Adamzuk, who scattered his deceased father’s ashes at a Cape Cod beach two years ago after a failed attempt to find a liver donor for him.  He took the family fax machine to the town dump here the same day.  “I couldn’t get replacement parts for it anymore either.”

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