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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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At the Beep, Beep Off
Some people hate voicemail, and I don't know why.

My daughter is one such. Despite having a voicemail greeting on her phone inviting callers to leave a message she makes a point of never listening to them, and feels that this is both normal and obviously justified behaviour. When asked why, she suggests something on the lines of voicemail being ridiculously cumbersome and time-consuming, making its use an antisocial imposition on the poor phone-owner. And so I suppose it is, if you have a vanishingly small amount of patience, in the same way that actually talking to people can be, but this hardly explains the totality or vehemence of her opposition.

If the message is a simple one, like "What time will you be home for dinner?" I'll normally text rather than leave a voicemail, knowing her preferences. But not all messages are that straightforward. What if I want to know her choice from a variety of menu options, and whether she'd like to bring a friend round and whether, if so, they're vegetarian, etc.? I could do that much more quickly as a voice message than via a text. Is it really unreasonable to do so - especially as replying in kind to such a text would be almost equally onerous?

I thought perhaps it was just my daughter and her immediate circle who felt this way, but when I recently spoke to a friend of mine in her mid-20s, I watched in surprise as her hands instinctively bunched into fists at the very mention of the V word. Like my daughter, she felt - she knew - that to use voicemail was to be commit a terrible faux pas. More, it was to be a terrible person.

How widespread is this antipathy, and what is the reason for it? Is it perhaps a generational thing? Any explanations gratefully received below.
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My voicemail queue usually consists of spam, spam, spam, spam, people hanging up, spam, spam, spam, spam. Once every thirty or forty messages there is a real one, and since I can see who called me and call back the important people, by the time I get to it, it's already been resolved. I find most of the spam callers highly obnoxious and don't have spoons for dealing with them. They're all claiming to be 'urgent' 'important' and so on, and will not take 'no' for an answer.

Add to that that my voicemails aren't always delivered on the spot but often hours later (depending on reception; I spend a lot of time in a place of lousy reception) and that it's often hard to understand information on answerphones (this has improved lately) I really avoid the medium as much as possible.

Texting, on the other hand, means that I will see the information almost immediately, I can process it easily, and I can respond in kind. I don't find texting onerous at all - I have an iPhone that I can type on with reasonable fluency (around 1000 words of fiction/hour, which is half my computer speed, but still), so I very much prefer it. In fact, my business card says 'text:' and gives my phone number.

Tl;dr: I'm considerably older than your daughter and almost never listen to my voicemails.


I don't have those problems - very seldom get a spam message, and find that voicemails are almost always delivered within a few seconds of their being left. I get about one or two voicemails a week, tops. No doubt you get a lot more, but still, if you almost never listen to your voicemails, then it's not surprising you get a backlog of them.

I certainly can't text anything like that fast. Perhaps it makes a difference that I don't have a smart phone, I don't know; but I would rather cut off my thumbs than try to do proper writing that way. Luckily I have a pen and notepad for emergencies.

(no subject) - green_knight, 2016-05-24 07:45 pm (UTC)(Expand)
My daughter never listens to voice mail. She'll register I've called and then call back to ask me what I've got to say for myself.

I've no idea know what the problem is.


I also hate voicemails. Several reasons:

1) I have to pay to call to get voicemails. This annoys me. It also means I have to have credit to receive them. Receiving a text (in the UK) is free, and I can get them even if I've run out of credit. (Admittedly this is presumeably less important for people on a contract).

2) With voicemails you have to have a pen and be able to hear people properly to get information, and can't refer back to it. With a text it's all there (until I accidentally delete it).

3) I can receive texts anywhere, including in a meeting (impolite though this is). VOicemails I have to be somewhere quiet enough to hear, and not in the middle of doing something else.

4) On my phone at least I can't always tell who a voicemail is from before listening to it. So there is apprenhension, and suspicion. Texts I can tell if it's an existing friend, which is nicer.

1) I can see that, certainly. I don't have to pay for mine - and considering that I only pay £5 a month for my mobile phone contract, I assumed that was the norm.
2) Well, you can refer back in the sense that you can save it and play it again, if you wish. (At least you can on my cheapo contract.)
3) Yes, that's certainly more convenient. On the other hand, no one would leave a voicemail I if it were urgent that you got it that minute - because clearly (since you haven't answered the phone) you're not going to.
4) Yes, fair point.

(no subject) - thistleingrey, 2016-05-25 01:09 am (UTC)(Expand)
I wish my regular voicemail service would email me transcripts of voicemails, however imperfect, like Google Voice does.

Calling back instead of actually listening to the message has become the norm around here (U.S., and I'm 45) for sure.

That would indeed be cool! I doubt we'll have to wait long for it.

(no subject) - thistleingrey, 2016-05-25 01:06 am (UTC)(Expand)
I'm leaving them less and less. They feel like an implicit demand that someone call you back as soon as they listen to the voicemail you've left them. I think there's a sort of cultural agreement build going on: as more and more people don't listen to their vm's and agree with each other that they don't, they more and more make it a norm that people might not listen so don't be offended if they haven't received the message you left. Even if you're entitled to assume they know you've left that message, it's like assuming that they got an email of yours. The synchronous interaction that still attaches to voice doesn't come into play if all you know is they know you called and left a message, but not what the message says. That shifts the interaction into the more forgiving asynchronous delay that goes with email and texting.

I don't often leave them, either - but then I don't use the phone much at all.

I don't think there's an implicit demand to be called back in the very fact of a voicemail's existence - surely it depends what the message says? A text that reads "Call me urgently!" is much more hectoring that a voicemail saying "Here's the answer to that crossword clue you were wondering about".

Still, I think you're right that it's come to be seen as demanding, for reasons that remain opaque to me - and once everyone's taken it into their heads that something's bad form, I suppose it becomes so in many ways.

The synchronicity point is interesting, but I remain incredulous that, some 140 years after the invention of the phonograph, people still can't shake off the notion of a recorded voice as having the same kind of immediacy as a person sitting across the table. To me a voicemail, an email and a text are all equally artefacts of a past attempt at communication, all equally intrusive (or not), all equally unwelcome (or not). To that extent, they're all much of a muchness.

Edited at 2016-05-24 09:35 pm (UTC)

I'm 40, and I hate voicemail. I don't have some kind of bullet-pointed list of why they're objectively bad; it's just a personal preference. I process information through reading a lot faster than I can through listening, and I also sometimes space out while listening or get distracted and then have to play the thing more than once. And if I don't have the time or the requisite two hands to do this (I do need two hands, one to hold the phone and one to write down whatever I need to know), and put off listening to the voicemail for a while, I'm likely to forget about it altogether until days have passed, and then I find the prospect of hearing the person's voice severely stress- and guilt-inducing.

Like, I said, it's not, for me, about some kind of objective better- or worseness. Just knowing my personal predilections and preferences. If someone does leave me a voicemail, I'm more likely to just check and see who called and call them right back before I forget.

I share some of those problems - particularly the spacing out. On the other hand, I do that in real life too, and voicemail at least has the advantage that you can replay...

I don't like voicemail. I have to be in a quiet places to listen to it. A lot of the messages prove to be clicks of people hanging up. It feels like it takes so much more time to listen to voicemail than to read a message.

I have to be in a quiet places to listen to it.

I have the same problem - but not just with voicemail. In fact, since I can choose where and when to listen to voicemails, it's less of a problem with them than with "live" phone calls, which can strike unexpectedly, at any time of place. So, as an argument against using phones for speaking at all I can see your point, but not against voicemail specifically.

(no subject) - vschanoes, 2016-05-25 11:56 am (UTC)(Expand)
Listening to voicemail is not an unwarranted imposition on your time, not if you can just punch a button to stop the message and go on to the next one. I used to do that all the time with looooong messages from my mother.

That is indeed a useful button.

I hate it - too many years of continual crises cause anxiety attacks, so now I don't bother having voicemail on the landline and we don't use mobile phones. I don't answer the landline. If it's an organisation they can write to me. I arrange to meet people at a particular time and if they don't show up, I go home.

You don't have voicemail and you don't answer the phone either? That's hardcore!

(no subject) - mevennen, 2016-05-25 01:21 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2016-05-25 01:24 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - heleninwales, 2016-05-25 06:59 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2016-05-25 10:26 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - mevennen, 2016-05-26 05:58 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2016-05-26 06:03 am (UTC)(Expand)
The post and comments (both sets) have been very interesting to read. Thank you! In high school I had to make a business call, and a friend who didn't want to speak wrote me a script and I read it in order to avoid misspeaking, stuttering a bit, getting parts out of sequence, etc. Now there isn't any anxiety--practice, as several have mentioned--but I still dislike voicemails, even my mother's politely under-thirty-second ones. I think it may be partly that reading is so much swifter for me than listening--bracketing the question of response and the issue of logistics.

I think it may be partly that reading is so much swifter for me than listening

I suspect that's true for many people in this thread. As a thought experiment (or perhaps prophetic vision) I am now envisaging a world in which the same principle is extended into all face-to-face meetings, with people being expected to write down what they want to say and pass a note, rather than rudely take up their interlocutor's precious time by speaking. That strikes me as absurd, on a similar level as the professors of Laputa with their "Flappers" - but then, the intensity of the voicemail antipathy also took me by surprise, so perhaps this may seem a state devoutly to be wished, at least by my flist!

(no subject) - steepholm, 2016-05-25 07:03 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - thistleingrey, 2016-05-28 05:42 am (UTC)(Expand)
I am much older than your daughter, and I neither leave voicemails for other people nor permit them to be left for me; this has been true for years. There are several main reasons: One, in order to configure voicemail my phone company wants you to pay more and to go through a ridiculous chain of phonetrees etc. in order to set up the thing, leave your away message, and so on-- entire process took me literally hours last time I tried it. So I would prefer not to. Two, I continually forgot to check voicemail when it existed, so I discovered that it's much better for me to leave it entirely un-set-up. If people can actually leave a message for me, they believe that I will definitely receive it, whereas if they get a recording saying that the number they have called does not have voicemail enabled (current status), they know that I will not receive it and do not yell at me when I forget to check. Three, I have serious phone anxiety in both outgoing and incoming communications, and I do way better having the phone continually in my lap or at arm's length. Raising the phone to my head to listen to it ups my anxiety level, as does putting on earbuds connected to a phone. The anxiety spike comes from not being able to hear what is going on around me, so texting is basically okay, though I still have some anxiety issues connected with the way people seem to want me to answer them instantaneously no matter what else I might be doing.

And I'm not going to leave voicemails for other people when they can't be left for me, as I think it's important to indicate clearly what kinds of interaction I will and will not engage in, and that it would be somewhat rude for me to leave somebody a voicemail and have them call me back and find themselves unable to reciprocate.

The difficulty/expense of setting voicemail up has been a recurrent theme - a consideration I admit I hadn't thought of, since it seems to come as standard (and for free) on all the packages I've ever had - along with a system to send me a text to let me know that there's a voicemail waiting for me.

General phone anxiety I understand and to an extent share, especially as I'm getting a little deaf, but that doesn't apply especially to voicemail, which at least can be replayed if necessary without irritating anyone by asking them to repeat themselves.

(no subject) - vschanoes, 2016-05-25 11:55 am (UTC)(Expand)
I have a strange thing with my phone, where text messages often don't appear for hours, even days. And then whoever texted wants to know why I didn't reply. My sister hates phoning, preferring texts and sorry, I just don't have time to spend on a text conversation. My phone stays in my office with my bag while I'm teaching. I only text if, a. The background is too noisy, such as when I'm on the train, b. If it's a brief message for someone else who can't reply immediately and I'm not in a rush. I don't get spam voicemail, anyone trying to sell me stuff presumably knows I won't call back. And there's the landline - at least if I'm out or on the other side of the library I can call back.

I am also entirely capable of not noticing that someone has texted me, because I'm not always looking at the phone. A single beep in a forest of other noises (including other people's phones, if I'm outside somewhere) is easy to overlook, even if the message is delivered quickly.

So I mostly use texting by pre-arrangement: "ping me when you leave the house" or "I'll text to let you know what bus I'm on."

It seems as though, no matter what form of communication is being used, some people will expect an immediate response—including "didn't you get my email?" if there's no answer within 20 minutes—because they forget or don't care that other people have lives that don't revolve around answering their messages. (Both in the sense of "I do things other than answer texts, emails, or phone calls" and in the sense that the impatient person isn't the only one who ever writes, texts, or calls me.)

I don't think it's rude to dislike voicemail. Or email. Or texts. Or paper letters. I do think it's counterproductive at best to have a voicemail message saying "Please leave a message" (which implies that this is a way of communicating even if it doesn't say "Please leave your name and number and a brief message, and I will call you back") when what the person actually means is "if you leave a voicemail message I will ignore it, because everyone knows that it's rude to use voicemail even when invited."

The approach rushthatspeaks describes strikes me as both politer and more effective, because people who might call them are accurately told that voicemail isn't going to work here.

I really really dislike voicemail. I rarely listen to it in a timely way, although once a week or so I resign myself to sitting down to attend to it. The best new thing I've done recently is change over to a Google Voice phone number that will transcribe my voicemails and send thme as emails.

An email I can skim while doing something else.

A voicemail means I have sit down, dial the number. Wait for it to connect. Gather a piece of paper to take down the message. Wait for the message envelope information ("phone call from 2 0 2 4 4 1 5 5 5 5 at 10 fifteen O Clock: Hi Person, sorry I missed you. I have a thing I want to talk to you about. It's an important thing. You didn't answer the phone and I am frustrated because I have this thing to talk to you about. I need to talk to you. Call me.")

It's a horrible game of tag and I don't wish to play.

What I prefer is that caller ID shows me who called and I note that they are trying to reach me - but haven't yet - and I either guess what they need me to do and do it, OR I call them back and/or text them and/or email them, usually without listening to the message.

Email is my preference by far, and my voicemail message suggests people do that and lets them know that I don't check it often.

I have instructed my staff never to leave phone messages that say "tag, you're it." Apparently this is something that needed to be taught. To me, it's obvious.

Edited at 2016-05-25 01:03 pm (UTC)

Most of the voicemails I receive are from my mother, who has neither email nor a mobile phone so can't easily reach me in any other way. It seems reasonable to me for her to leave a message.

Other recent ones, checking back, are from the vet, confirming an appointment for my cat, and the local garage letting me know my car was fixed and ready to collect. Should they have hung up and texted me instead? I don't see why.

It's a long time since I got a message simply telling me to call the person back - but if I did, I don't honestly think I would feel differently about it than about a text that did the same thing. That would feel just as "tag"-ish.

I also hate voicemail! And so do most of the people I regularly associate with. It was at least at one point because none of us had phone contracts, so having to spend your own credit on listening to a message someone left was a huge imposition. Also I think, as a person who hates the phone in general, that there's something about not wanting to have the responsibility for ringing back.

Plus, with texting all the information you need is right there--if you need to call back in person you can, but most of the time it's a simple question and easily responded to.

(Plus, as you well know, my phone is total crap and doesn't always ring, so there's that.)

Your phone is in a class of its own.

(no subject) - ashkitty, 2016-05-25 11:52 pm (UTC)(Expand)
To me, 99% of any voicemail messages I would ever leave would consist of "Please call me back," and the missed-call message does that for me anyway.

Ah, I interpret a missed call quite differently! I just assume that, since it wasn't important enough to leave a message, there's no need to call back. So I don't.

(no subject) - ethelmay, 2016-05-25 11:58 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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