Going back to our ears
Voicemail, that old hallmark of the voice-centric era, is dead. But the era of app-centric voice messaging is very much alive
Just over a month ago I turned off my voicemail. After voice calls and SMSES, voicemail has been the longest-used service I’ve had since I bought my first cellphone in 1995. It was an essential part of the cellphone era,
To say I hardly miss it hardly needs to be said. My voicemail, like just almost everyone else’s these days, has politely implored people not to leave a message but rather text or e-mail me. I even helpfully spelt out my e-mail address. People still left voicemail. For years it hasn’t really bothered me because for the past decade I’ve paid for an extra voice-to-text translation service. Instead of listening to my voicemail, I would get these handy SMSES — with most of the voice messages properly converted into text.
But when Vodacom shut the service down at the beginning of November, I took it as a sign that it was time to turn off voicemail altogether. For the past month my life has continued without voicemail, and it has not been missed in the slightest. I quite rightly assumed I didn’t have to ask people to send me a text message (via whatever channel) because that is now the common assumption. Right?
Except voice messaging is flourishing — from an unexpected source. Almost every texting app including Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger and Wechat lets you send short audio clips. I have to admit, perhaps irrationally, to not liking voice messages because they defeat the point of a text-messaging app: to send text messages. That’s not to say they aren’t useful. For the sender they are especially handy. Instead of typing up a note with your thumbs, you can hold down the microphone icon and dictate a message.
What could be easier? Just ask the Wechat users who sent 6.1-billion voice messages last year. There is a sincerity to hearing a voice message as opposed to reading a text one. You can hear real emotion in someone’s voice and it’s a much warmer, more intimate way to communicate even if it’s one-sided.
But you can’t simply glance at your phone’s locked screen notification to see if it’s urgent or not, because you only get the voice message icon. Nor can you discreetly listen to it like you can reply to a really urgent text message. It feels like a betrayal of the whole point of text messaging.
We’re not making as many phone calls any more, because the voicecentric cellphone has been replaced by the data-centric smartphone. We stopped holding cellphones next to our heads — instead, we stare down at smartphones, scroll through social media and tap out messages.
Now, the phone is going back up to our ears, as it were. Unless of course you’re a Bluetooth headphone user.
Voice messaging is more personal (even if many people ramble), and it’s the evolution of messaging happening in front of our eyes.
Whether it’s a permanent new feature or a passing fad, we’ll probably know in the distant future. Like, next year.
Voice messaging is more personal, it’s the evolution of messaging in front of our eyes