Phone Monkey: Anachronism

The  Internet is a great place, and, despite my gripes about people losing their sense of empathy and becoming awful monsters, has made a lot of things easier. One might ask why our business even exists. We don’t make food, nor do we actually deliver it–we employ no drivers, and only about half of our workforce lives in a place where it’s necessary to have a car. So how do we make any money? Convenience, pure and simple. Rather than have you, the customer, call a restaurant where spoken English may be at a minimum, we do that for you. It’s essentially the same thing as going to a foreign country and pointing at a piece of  food or a pictorial menu. Your order is then sent in text format to the restaurant, reducing the chances of error to almost zero. Really: almost zero. If we average ten orders per minute over the course of twenty hours, that’s 12,000 orders per day. And honestly, that seems low; I just wanted the math to be easy. If we get 50 legitimate complaints, that’s a recorded error rate well under one percent.

So how do we get the orders out? This gets back to what I was saying about the Internet being a great place–or rather that I called it a place. The known web (as opposed to the deep web and other areas, labeled “Here There Be Dragons”) is, in the minds of many a place. There are forums and bookstores and what amount to dens of iniquity. Just like the real world, only the dens of iniquity are much easier to find online. Because it’s convenient! So be honest: when was the last time you thought of that forum or bookstore or den of iniquity as just a box of wires in an air-conditioned building somewhere? If you always do, congratulations, you adorable dweeb you! Also, I’m going to bury the lead a little more, so get out your shovel.

Some time ago, I can’t remember in which article or in which magazine, I read a single sentence about video games and science fiction that forever changed my perception of the genre. It was basically that science fiction works best when it is inherently anachronistic. Most of the best science fiction books, movies and games always leave bits of the past in the future. Sometimes leaving an evolutionary trail of old and obsolete tech is just for atmosphere, but mostly it’s so stuff makes sense, and occasionally it’s there so the characters have to struggle. In the real world, it’s definitely the latter.

The fax machine is a one-hundred-year-old piece of technology. Theoretically, they are great. You put one document in one end, and it shoots out the other, thousands of miles away, moments later. But even in the best of circumstances, they are still kind of a joke. That transmission technology still relies on physical, meat-space objects to interact correctly. Paper jams and ink leaks are the bane of the fax. Still, that’s easy enough to mitigate if you eliminate the physicality on one end. You can just digitize a PDF and shoot it out through a fax line, which is easy enough to automate. Then all you have to worry about is the machines on the restaurants’ end, which shouldn’t be a problem because the restaurants rely on them for orders. Their staff would always keep such devices clean and well-stocked with ink and paper, and would never think of kicking them, burning them, ripping them from the wall in anger, or dropping hot pizza grease into their sensitive innards. They’re professionals.

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