The Obsolescence of Voice Mail
Someday, perhaps not too far in the future, voice mail may reside in the dustbin of outmoded technologies. As Jill Colvin from The New York Times reports, we are more inclined to text or email than listen to, or leave, voicemails based on ease and immediacy of the response. According to recent research, people take longer to respond to voice messages than other kinds of communication. uReach Technologies, the operator of Verizon Wireless’s voice messaging systems, reports that over 30% of voice messages linger unheard for three days or longer. On the other hand, 91% of people under 30 respond to text messages within an hour and are four times more likely repond to texts than voice mails within minutes. Even with the increasing use to VoIP and related services that immediately alert users of their voice messages or translate voice to text, this trend may serve as a signaling function: a voice mail ignored and a text returned will make clear what gets us what we want faster.
Does this trend have meaningful consequences? Document attachments in our networked age have largely replaced faxes just as the telephone largely displaced the telegraph in an earlier time and common thinking has little regret about these developments. But perhaps this trend may have some lasting significance that might be worth considering. The more we leave to text and less to voice, the more messages may get misconstrued. We cannot tell if someone is joking or is upset from text and more often text can send misleading signals about our emotions (unless the stray emoticon provides some help, which is certainly less prevalent in the professional sphere). It also may have an effect on litigation, to the pleasure, or great pain, of many lawyers. The more we write down, the more we tend to raise problems for ourselves, and hence the more that attorneys have to sift through in discovery. To be sure, voice mails are discoverable, but they are less likely to provoke a series of other voice mails where a text or email can lead to a disastrous series of replies, often written in haste and possibly in anger. This may be a true boon to e-Discovery consultants (as my civil procedure students would wisely suggest). And the more that we write down in digital format, the more chance that such information could be hacked, leaked, or sent to an undesirable audience at the expense of privacy and reputation. Of course, these are but initial thoughts, and I look forward to your comments.