‘Like hand-written letters, voice notes convey intimacy’
While it’s WhatsApp that has made voice notes popular globally, it was pioneered by the Chinese messaging app WeChat
Nishant Shah, dean of Research at ArtEZ University of the Arts, The Netherlands, likens them to “distributed phone calls”. Rachel Rojy, 24, uses voice notes only with close friends. “The other person doesn’t need to be available, and I still get to express myself exactly how I want to in that moment,” she says.
Mehak Sawhney, who does research on voice-based media technology at Sarai-CSDS, compares voice notes to handwritten letters as they are “intimate and allow for the personal to play out”. “It allows us to pay attention to the minutiae of human voice — volume, modulation, pauses, laughter, other expressive sounds.”
While it’s WhatsApp that has made voice notes popular globally, it’s China’s WeChat that was a pioneer. It caught on because typing Chinese characters was quite a pain. Back home too it’s finding favour with older people who find typing laborious. Also, it’s a help when phone keyboards fail nonEnglish speakers. For instance, domestic workers are using them to tell their employers that they’re going to be late or ask what dal they want for dinner. Chaitanya Raj Singh, a 24-yearold social entrepreneur, says, “When you work outside major metros, voice notes make it much easier to communicate with people who don’t have such a good grasp of English.”
Pandit Avadhkishor Pandey, a music teacher in Udaipur who offers classes on YouTube, started using voice notes a couple of years ago to answer his students’ questions. “I had about 20 lists of 200 people each who would listen to my voice notes, where I talked about everything, from morning riyaz, to what a taal is,” he says. Now, one lakh people across the world tune in to his voice messages.
Delhi-based theatre artist Tanvika Parlikar enjoys the flexibility of voice notes. “You can be both to the point and meander all over the place. Calls make me anxious, you don’t get time to think about how you want to respond,” she says.
She says voice notes and millennials are a match made in heaven. “We tend to dabble with ideas we don’t completely understand — a new philosophy we’re trying to live by, unfinished thoughts that we want our close ones to hear. They also capture our speech patterns as a generation, with our ‘umm’, ‘like’ and ‘sort of ’.”
You can also listen back. Chakravarthy says, “Voice notes seem perfect for our generation, partly because we’re used to immediate communication, but also because of our desire to commemorate and revisit ourselves from the past.”