Remember back when voicemail came out? I do. At the time I had an answering machine with a little microcassette that, more likely than not, would accidentally pop out of the machine, intermittently delete messages, or simply choose not to record them in the first place. There were digital options as well, the ones that used fancy schmancy microchips to record messages, adding a sweet touch of HAL-9000 to the voice of every recorded message. And then one day our phone companies told us we could part ways with these relics, that they would do us the service of storing our messages for us, all for a low monthly fee.
And we parted ways with our crusty machinery. We parted in droves. We parted so fast that within months answering machines had lower resale value than HD-DVD players today. This move may have actually marked the beginning of the “services” era, where companies started seeking out additional ways to make monthly money with only an incremental increase in services. And I think we’re reaching one of those interesting inflection points where it’s time for some of those services, specifically voicemail, to start leaving our culture.
Why do I pick on useful, venerable voicemail? The signs are in the air for its demise. First, we’re seeing cell phones become the dominant phones in people’s lives, and I don’t have a stat to prove it, but I’d take a wager that home phone usage is on the downturn. And with cell phones comes automatic caller-ID, automatic call history/logging, and the most blessed service of all, texting.
While nothing beats a phone call for catching up with a friend or loved one, and nothing beats a phone call for resolving an interpersonal dispute or a contract negotiation, or anything else that requires a lengthy conversation, nothing beats texting for a quick message. If you take a moment to think about the majority of voicemails you receive, I’ll take another wager that the overwhelming majority of them could be reduced into three words: Call Me Back (sticklers will now point out that the word Back is superfluous, but hey, I’m old-fashioned). Even the rest of the blah-de-blah of the typical voicemail could be saved for after the return call anyway.
I love texting. I love it for coordinating quick plans. I love it for promising to return a call, even while on another call. I love it for notifying someone I’m late, but en route. I love it when I need to tell someone I can’t take their call because I’m on the bus, and I don’t want to be one of those bus cell phone people who carry on at length about inane things that nobody, caller included, cares about but the call must go on, heaven forbid an 18-27 year old sit on a bus for 20 minutes without talking to someone about nothing at all.
Texting is more productive too. Time required to leave a “call me back” message AND listen to it? Over a minute. Texting the same thing? Seconds. And if you don’t have an iPhone, how do you even know who those voicemails are from anyway? It’s a useful tool for informing people about things, whether it’s your followers on Twitter, or yourself on kwiry (disclosure: they are a client of mine). Texting blows away Facebook poking for a “quick hi”. It’s probably a great way for kids in school to cheat these days, although I have to assume those days are numbered. I used to receive Habs score updates through texting (but I subscribed to the hockey package and it kept ruining my games!), and others get stock quotes through it.
Voicemail, on the other hand, is really not good for much. Sure there are some messages that a text would be quite awkward to send. I wonder if the future may hold for the transition from “we have to talk” (the worst four words in the English language) to “we have to text”? For me, I’ll take a quick text over a long voicemail any day. C U later!