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Call me, maybe – but here's why you shouldn't dare leave a voicemail

Cheerful woman talking on cell phone

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Next time you call and no one answers the phone, don't leave a message after the beep.

That would be inconsiderate, according to the digital etiquette police.

Gawker writer Caity Weaver and New York Times columnist Nick Bilton – whose recent anti-voicemail screed drew the wrath of Philistines everywhere – insist that voicemails should be rendered obsolete.

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Bilton argued that listening to a voicemail wastes the recipient's time, whereas a text message can be checked at a glance on the omnipresent smartphone.

Social niceties, such as a phone message from Dad, are now considered disruptions that "just don't make sense to people drowning in digital communication," he wrote. The worst offenders, he added, are people who leave a voicemail message and then e-mail to tell you they left a voicemail. (I think we can all agree on that point.)

Weaver, on the other hand, is irritated by voicemail messages for existential reasons. In a post subtitled "Don't Leave Me A Voicemail Unless You're Dying," she described the internal pressure she feels to save tender voicemails from loved ones "just on the off-chance they will die unexpectedly."


I can relate to the difficulty in responding to voicemail messages in a timely fashion, since I spend much of the day away from home and have yet to cancel the anachronism known as the "land line." But I'm guessing that people who leave voicemails in this day and age don't expect immediate replies (thankfully, this includes my mom).

The real reason people hate voicemail may have something to do with the unspoken expectation to reply via the original mode of communication. In other words, a voicemail demands a phone call, e-mail requires e-mail, and a text begets a return text.

Perhaps voicemail messages would be less annoying if people felt at liberty to respond using the communication medium of their choice – be that by text, Facebook, Twitter or a picture-worth-a-thousand-words on Pinterest.

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Back to the "inconvenience" argument, it's true that retrieving a voicemail may take a whopping 20 seconds of one's time. But with phone messages, there is the added bonus of hearing the cadence and emotional tone of the caller's voice.

Even Weaver acknowledged the value of human connection in the event of important news. Hearing about the birth of a child shouldn't happen from a voicemail, she pointed out. Instead, however, she recommends sending a text saying "big news – call me!" According to her brand of etiquette, the recipient should then repeatedly call the text sender until he or she picks up.

Now that doesn't waste anyone's time, does it?

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