Voice Mail Not in Hear and Now for Many Folks


With texting, Twitter, Facebook and other emerging channels for communication entering our lives, it's not surprising that many of us are abandoning some existing channels to make room for them. And voice mail is increasingly the odd man out, according to a recent New York Times story.


One of the folks interviewed in the story is a 32-year-old book publicist who reckons it requires up to 10 steps to retrieve a voice mail, versus three or fewer steps for an e-mail. Lots of people are paying less attention to voice mail, if statistics from uReach Technologies are to be believed. It says that more than 30 percent of voice messages go unheard for at least three days. Some folks never listen to voice mail, judging from the comments of several in the Times story.


Voice mail lacks the immediacy of other forms of communication. Another study, this one from Opinion Research Corp. for Sprint, found that 91 percent of people under 30 respond to text messages within an hour and that even those over 30 are more likely to respond more quickly to texts than to voice messages.


This won't come as news to most of us. I just returned to the office after a week off. I had two voice mails, one of them that actually predated my vacation. In contrast, my e-mail inbox was filled with several hundred messages. (Many of them were junk, of course. However, I was able to cull the obvious unwanted stuff on a first pass, then focus on the most important of my remaining messages in a way that wouldn't be possible with voice messages.)


TechCrunch's Michael Arrington declared voice mail dead back in July, making many of the same points covered in the Times article. Among them: Voice mail doesn't lend itself to collaboration, since it's not as easy to forward or respond to as e-mail. Unlike e-mail and other forms of communication, it's not a regular part of the workflow for many folks. (E-mail was first on my agenda today. I remembered to check voice mail some time after lunch.) To those I'd add, it's usually a lot easier to decipher e-mails since they are less affected by background noise, foreign accents, etc. It's also easier to organize and store e-mail.


Both Arrington and the Times mention several services that convert voice mails to text. That feature will be included in the forthcoming Google Voice.


Of course, not everyone agrees that voice mail is dead, even for business (rather than personal) communications. Wrote one reader of my July post about Arrington's pronouncement:


Voice mail remains an efficient way to transfer information for mobile people who don't want to type long text messages on their tiny awkward phone keypads.


True enough, at least for those of us not as fleet of thumb as others. The same reader helpfully suggests that those who don't routinely listen to voice mail should include this information in their outgoing voice messages.