The Obsolescence of Voice Mail

120px-Alt_Telefon.jpgSomeday, 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.

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5 Responses

  1. A.W. says:

    well, i will point out that the technology exists also to turn voice mail messages into audio files, and back when i worked for a firm that did that, it was incredibly convenient. That might be where it will go.

  2. Following A.W., I have all my voicemail emailed to me automatically, and then I usually respond to folks by voicemail unless a call is really necessary.

    That said, one of the biggest adjustments for me in academia is how much the phone is used. Even in my own school, folks call me to tell me a package has arrived, that they want to meet for lunch, etc. I’m still not used to that.

  3. Whoops – I mean I respond by email…

  4. Danielle Citron says:

    Michael and A.W., Thanks for your comments! My sentence–“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.”–meant to acknowledge your excellent point and explain that nonetheless people may still generally be more inclined to text or email. Perhaps I am biased by my own inclination to email over voice mail!

  5. A.W. says:

    Ah, well, as a lawyer i do 90% of my communication by email. That way if someone says A.W. said i could!, i can contradict them with proof, if necessary. But that has to do with the efficiency of cya more than anything.

    I was just pointing out where the tech is going, and maybe people will use it. of course its hard to know. for instance, pdf scans have only sort of half replaced other methods of document transmission. i ask people to send me docs all the time, and about 25% are willing to pdf send it to me as i prefer (for cost alone), 25% will fax and the rest use FedEx. I think as the late adopters become just plain “adopters” that will change, but every time someone tries to predict the future, i always remember those lame “world of the future” spots that seemed so hilariously wrong about life in the future. I mean seriously, where is my rocket car and robot butler, huh?

    But it can be fun to speculate.