When voicemail was introduced in the early days of the 1980s, it was quickly appropriated into the everyday, into offices, homes, and the greater zeitgeist. But over the last 25 years, the rise of the Internet and email, and cellphones and text messaging–not to mention networking sites and twitter–has struck against and undermined the importance and relevance of this playback tool.
The New York Times asks: Is voice mail on its way to becoming obsolete?.
Speaking personally, and this is particularly true in my professional life, the phone–overall–is going the way of the telegram. When we’re talking about voice mail specifically, the allure and commonness of instantaneous email overrides many peoples inclination to “leave a message,” when it takes 7 to 10 steps to check a voice mail message versus zero to 3 for an e-mail.
According to the New York Times article quotes data from uReach Technologies, which operates the voice mail systems of Verizon Wireless and other cellphone carriers. Their numbers show that “over 30 percent of voice messages linger unheard for three days or longer and that more than 20 percent of people with messages in their mailboxes ‘rarely even dial in’ to check them.” By contrast, 91 percent of people under 30 respond to text messages within an hour, and they are four times more likely to respond to texts than to voice messages within minutes. Even adults 30 and older are twice as likely to respond within minutes to a text than to a voice message, another study found.
Combine this with the frequent inconsequence of the voice mail–why listen to a message when you can see you missed a call? It’s often easier to just call back–and you get a recipe for technology obsolescence. Moreover, there are services rising in popularity now–specifically Phone Tage and Google Voice, which will debut this month–that could completely do away with the “voice” in voicemail very soon.
So maybe the question isn’t whether voicemail will end up like the 8-track (or the compact disc, for that matter) but whether anyone will even care.