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Voicemail Is Now Officially Dead. Here’s What Killed It

We never really liked it anyway.

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BY John Brandon - 12 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I have a confession to make. I have not actually listened to a voicemail message in over two years. I know what you're thinking. What about all of those phone calls from people trying to reach me about a new insurance plan or to get directions to my house to help with a delivery? How could I possibly be so cold, inhumane, and unfeeling as to ignore them?

Er, sorry?

I just can't bring myself to listen to the messages.

For starters, in almost every single case, the person ends up texting me anyway. Or emailing me. Or calling me again. I often call people back when I see a number that looks familiar, is from my local area, or just seems like an interesting place of origin (say, Silicon Valley or something that looks like the Inc. headquarters.)

Now, you might say I'm cheating because I do scan through the transcriptions, both the ones that arrive on my iPhone and using Google Voice (for a business line). And, part of the issue here is that I'm barely using a phone the way it was intended anyway--for voice communication. Almost everyone I know personally (friends and family) use text. When a family member is texting me and gets frustrated about not hearing back, they switch to Facebook Messenger. When things get really desperate, they just drive over to my office. (In all seriousness, we agree to call each other right then. Problem solved.)

So what's really going on here?

Do we not like listening the voices of other people?

Are we cold and unfeeling?

In some ways, it's the opposite. I'm in the camp that says texting, social media, and even email have helped us connect more in a business context, not less. What really killed voicemail for me was not that I'm texting more, or that Google Voice transcribes the message, or that there's even something that replaced those six minute voice messages.

In the end, the entire concept of voicemail itself was inherently flawed.

Let me explain.

Originally, when voicemail started out in the 1980s and PBX phone systems became common, the idea was somewhat novel. You could call someone and leave a message instead of calling a few more times. It was magical at first. Then, it stopped being magical.

The entire idea of leaving a voice message is terrible in terms of productivity. You can't listen to a voice message quickly. It's impossible. (Quick side note here: Those big answering machines that paved the way for voicemail were also terribly inefficient. So were the voicemail systems that worked on your home phone line.)

It's a false premise. I want to communicate information to you. Recording my voice and sending it to you as an archive was never really a good idea. My view is that many of us have finally realized that voicemail doesn't make sense so we stopped using it. Nail, meet the coffin. It's not a technology shift. It's a light-bulb moment on a grand scale. I can communicate with you in other ways that are much more reliable. I don't have to listen to your message ever. I can scan through the text or wait for you to email me.

I haven't missed listening to the messages at all. I never liked voicemail in the first place. You had to dial a passcode, wait for the beeps, and then repeat that process a dozen times per day until you wanted to drop your pone off of a cliff. How was voicemail ever a good thing? It was never a productivity booster. Technology finally caught up to the concept, and voicemail crawled into a dark cave. I'm really happy about that.

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