SOUTH SIOUX CITY | It wasn't too long ago that Ellen Miller would have to go next door to the trophy shop to send a fax.
About 20 years ago, Miller said, the insurance office in which she works got its own standalone fax -- short for facsimile -- machine. The staff was ready to make use of the latest technology to quickly send and receive information.
Over the years, the screeching and beeping and the curled up papers dropping out of the machine have evolved. Telecopying machines are quieter now and print out laser-printer quality copies.
But probably not for much longer.
"Right now we still do use it quite a bit," said Miller, office manager at Myrah Favors State Farm Insurance Agency in South Sioux City. "I could see in the next three to five years that it would be gone."
The ever-changing world of electronics is likely to render the fax machine a thing of the past in the near future. The ability to digitally scan documents, attach them to an email and click "send" has made the fax machine an endangered species. Businesses large and small are switching to fax servers and digital faxes.
"Faxes are now going digital. It's just part of being in the technology industry. With technology, it's an exponential change in growth," said Shaun Busskohl, sales manager at Perkins Office Solutions in Sioux City.
He gives fax machines as we know them five to 10 years.
"A lot of it has to do with what kind of regulations come down that say this has to be done digitally," Busskohl said.
The insurance, banking and health care industries are speeding the fax machine's demise, he said, requiring more of the information they deal with to be sent digitally. As a result, Busskohl said, his store sees fewer and fewer fax machines sold, maybe two or three a month. Most fax machines sold are part of multifunction copy machines that have fax capabilities.
Many small businesses still rely on the standalone fax machine, though.
"It's almost like a comfort blanket. They've gotta have that paper copy," Busskohl said.
Miller said she still sends a lot of mortgage information to banks and body shop estimates by fax. About half of the people Miller deals with still prefer faxes.
"I don't think everybody has gone to emails," she said.
More and more will, eventually. Miller foresees the day when the fax function on the office's copy machine is no longer used. As technology advances, it will become easier to scan and email documents rather than fax them. That's just progress, Miller said.
"I think it's a good thing," she said.