Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Friday, April 03, 2021

I know that many a friend and colleague of mine found a struck chord in the idea that in a world of email, texts, and IMs, voicemail is falling out of favor:

Research shows that people take longer to reply to voice messages than other types of communication. Data from uReach Technologies, which operates the voice messaging systems of Verizon Wireless and other cellphone carriers, shows that over 30 percent of voice messages linger unheard for three days or longer and that more than 20 percent of people with messages in their mailboxes “rarely even dial in” to check them, said Saul Einbinder, senior vice president for marketing and business development for uReach, in an e-mail message.

By contrast, 91 percent of people under 30 respond to text messages within an hour, and they are four times more likely to respond to texts than to voice messages within minutes, according to a 2008 study for Sprint conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation. Even adults 30 and older are twice as likely to respond within minutes to a text than to a voice message, the study found.

There are no definitive studies of how many voice mail messages American leave compared with earlier periods, but if the technology is heading toward obsolescence — as many communication experts suspect — the trend is being driven by young people. Again and again, people under 25 recount returning calls from older colleagues and family members without bothering to listen to messages first. Thanks to cellphone technology, they can see who called and hit the Send button to reply without calling their voice mail box. “Didn’t you get my message?” parents ask. “No,” their children reply, “but I saw that you called.”

Jack Cathey, 20, a college student in Lewisburg, Tenn., said his parents and grandparents continued trying to leave him voice messages despite his objections. “Do you know your voice mail’s full?” a family member asked him recently, failing to comprehend that, for his generation, that might not be a problem.

I’m somewhat of two minds on this. Personally, I’m not much of a phone person, so I prefer non-vocal communication (mainly email). It breaks down between asynchronous versus synchronous: If given the choice of reading/scanning a written message (long or short) on your own time-shifted schedule and at your own pace, or having to listen the whole way through to a time-consuming recording that may or may not ramble, which would you take? Exactly.

I also think that, as mentioned above, caller ID has done a lot to make voicemail redundant. Consider that the most important thing about leaving a phone message is the “who” — not so much the “why”, because presumably, you’re going to call them back anyway to find that out (or not, which still hinges on who called). Caller ID accomplishes that, with a timestamp and originating phone number to boot — and, much like any other text-based communication, it’s relayed instantly for viewing. Most of the time, any additional information is superfluous. Plus, when it comes to landlines and VoIP service, Caller ID is a built-in feature, while a voicemail account is often an additional charge — again, what’s the point, if Caller ID tells you enough of what you need to know?

All that said… I think it’s pretty irresponsible to ignore your voicemails, or to let your voicemail inbox stay perpetually filled. In both cases, you’re not allowing people to reach out to you via their preferred method; it doesn’t matter if it’s not your favorite way to communicate. Shunting them to email or something else may seem considerate, but it’s really not. Like I observed long ago, if someone’s opted for a specific channel of communication, they should rightly expect to reach you (even eventually) via that channel. And it’s not like forcing someone to hang up the phone and start typing saves time in this process — in fact, it wastes time, which voicemail allegedly does in the first place.

Again, my personal experience: If I’m calling someone, it’s because I either don’t have another way to get ahold of them (either at that moment, or altogether), or else it’s actually important enough that I do need to talk to them. So a full inbox doesn’t really do me much good in those situations.

The simplest solution, if voicemail is such a pain? Discontinue it. I’m sure telecom providers will remove voicemail services if you request it. By eliminating the option, at least you’re not pissing people off by making them think that their message will be returned, or that there’s ever a chance of even leaving a message.

I guess the ultimate resolution to this will be text-transcription of voice messages when necessary, and ubiquitous written transmissions in all other cases. The wonder will be if we actually have anything noteworthy to say during all this.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 04/03/2021 04:49:06 PM
Category: Society, Tech
| Permalink | Trackback |

Feedback »
Say something!

Comment moderation might kick in, so please do not hit the "Say It!" button more than once.