The Death of Voice Mail

I am a child of the 1960s and '70s. I lived through the Beatles, the Cold War, Nixon, men on the moon, pet rocks, and bell bottom pants. Oh boy, did I live through bell bottom pants...and disco shirts...and long hair...and wide leather belts...and love beads.

The sorry thing is that I once felt so cool wearing all those cringe-worthy fashion statements. Thankfully, there aren't many photographs of me back then, but there are enough to make me never want those styles to come around again. Once was enough.

Technology can be like that. Remember your first cell phone? Mine weighed as much as a brick and yet I thought it was the greatest thing ever invented. The same can be said for my first laptop PC (which required a pretty big lap), calculator (again, a brick), and more recently, my first Bluetooth headset. While they all seemed pretty amazing at the time, I would look mighty foolish lugging any one of them around today.

Which brings me to what I want to write about today -- voice mail. It has been around in one form or another for quite a few years, and although it has gone through a number of variations and improvements, it just might be time to haul it off to the Goodwill.

Please allow me to explain.

How many of you have teenage or millennial children? When was the last time one of them listened to a voice message? If they are like mine, the answer would be "never."

Don't get me wrong. My sons are good kids, and they aren't purposely trying to ignore me. They will return my call, but not because a message told them to. They see my name in their list of missed calls and simply tap to dial. What could be simpler?

The sad truth is that they come by this behavior honestly. I hate listening to voice mails, too. In fact, I find that more and more of my friends and coworkers are the same. We don't mind emails, SMS texts, or instant messages, but listening to voice mail has become a chore and who needs another drain on our very limited time?

The thing is this: We live in a world where speed is of the essence, and our eyes grasp words on a screen far faster than our ears can listen to the same thing. We want the information, but we want it now and voice mail is just too darn slow. Text is actionable, voice mail is not. Text can be shared, enhanced, and debated. For nearly all practical purposes, a voice mail is static – a rock that just sits there.

Compounding the voice mail problem are people who haven't figured out the proper way to leave one. They ramble around, repeat themselves, mumble, talk too slow, avoid the point, and when they finally get to the good part, like leaving a phone number, they rattle it off like a machine gun. Who hasn't had to play the same voice message over and over again trying to figure out if that's a "9" or a "5"?

Lastly, let's also not disregard the notion that we as a society are evolving away from basic words to more of a multimedia experience. Newspapers and magazines are being replaced by their online equivalents. Video makes up a larger part of our work and personal lives. We live in a world of colorful sound bites, and frankly, voice mail has become a quaint relic of the past -- bell bottom pants in the age of Dockers.

Will companies start jettisoning their voice mail systems tomorrow or the next day? Probably not, but I predict that ports will be reduced and servers downsized as less people leave voice messages and even fewer listen to them. Like fax (whose death would greatly please me), voice mail will become less important as other more efficient means of messaging continue to rise in popularity and use.

Right on.