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The End of Voicemail?

I hardly leave or listen to voice messages anymore. Do you?
September 7, 2012

No phone calls, please.

It’s the classic request of the non-committal potential employer, but increasingly, it’s the request of all of us. USA Today, equipped with data from the Internet phone company Vonage, reports that voicemail messages are in decline. For Vonage, the number of voicemail messages dipped 8%, comparing July 2012 figures to July 2011’s.

And leaving voicemails was just the beginning of it. Even fewer people could be bothered to check such messages. In the same yearlong period, retrieved voicemail plummeted 14%.

USA Today ascribes the change to the rise of texting, instant chat, and transcription apps, and that more or less resonates with me. I can attest that in my own life, my voicemail usage has plummeted precipitously. I’d roughly estimate that in the last three years or so, my usage has halved.

There are a number of factors to consider here. For my public-facing phone number, most frequently called by PR reps and other people I don’t know personally, I use a Google Voice number that does not push to my cell phone. I receive an email when someone leaves a message on this number, together with a transcribed version of the message. Often even a mediocre transcription is sufficient for me to make a quick decision about whether or not I actually need to listen to the message.

On my personal number, the person who leaves me the most phone messages is my mother. Because, as she says, she is wont to forget things unless she acts on them the moment they’re in her brain, she’ll often call me from her car, reminding me of a train ticket I ought to buy, or of a family member’s approaching birthday. But since my mother’s brain isn’t as foggy as she claims, I know that more often than not she’ll send me an email repeating the information not long after–so I rarely (sorry, Mom!) check those voice messages.

For most other people who know me personally, they’re much more likely to send a text message or an email. Some argue that the rise of texting and messaging betokens an era where people aren’t as good at communicating face-to-face. There may be some truth to that, but in the case of myself and my friends, I think we simply prefer texting and email because it’s more efficient–you can send a message when it suits you and respond to a message when it suits you. A phone call (which, remember, is the precursor to a voicemail) feels like an interruption–often because it is. The truth is, when I’m not reporting or dealing with something very time-sensitive, I hardly make phone calls at all anymore.

I wonder, though, how many of my practices are generational–a man I spoke with who founded a startup that can simulate the voices of loved ones got the idea when his son stopped answering his calls–or how many of them are specific to the life of a journalist, or the life of someone living in New York. How do you use voicemail these days, if at all?

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