Voicemail is dead. Tell your friends.

I got my shiny new iPhone 4S in December, and realized three months later that I had neglected to set up my voicemail. I really meant to set it up, but I kept putting it off and eventually realized that I didn’t miss it.

Back in the nineties, voicemail was an important asset. If you missed someone’s call, they could leave you a brief voice message with their phone number and their reason for calling, and you could call them back. I remember people talking about the best enterprise voicemail systems – which allowed for archiving, how many messages could be stored and for how long, etc. Email was around, but people hadn’t really figured it out yet. It was great for forwarding jokes and cat pictures, or maybe moving a Word document to another computer, but it wasn’t really a mainstream communication medium yet. Letters were formal. Voicemail was informal and common.

Today though, I really don’t want messages in the form of spoken words. Listening to them is time-consuming, and if there’s any important information in there, you have to write it down. Sometimes you can’t even hear the information clearly. Plus, raising my phone to my ear and listening to voicemail says to the people around me, I’m not paying attention to you, I’m checking my messages.

An increasing number of people are avoiding voicemail altogether. A typical voicemail greeting today may be something like “Don’t leave me a voicemail because I never check it. Please email me at [email protected] Some people don’t set up their voicemail accounts at all. Others let their mailbox get full and don’t empty it.

Caller ID tells me who called and when, so I don’t even bother listening to the voicemail they left me. That just increases the time it takes me to call back. How many times have you called someone back and said “Hey, I saw that you called but didn’t listen to the voicemail yet. Is it urgent?”

There are services out there attempting to make voicemail more useful. Visual voicemail on the iPhone and Android makes the whole process simpler and less cluttered, but you still have to sit down and listen to the messages, which usually comes after equally important but less disruptive tasks.

The services that really improve the voicemail experience are those that convert voicemail to text. Google Voice does this, and emails the transcript to you. Many carriers are also starting to offer voicemail-to-text services for a monthly or per-message fee, and I expect this to become more common. But those services are still far from perfect, and you’ll usually end up having to listen to the voicemail anyway to really understand what the sender is trying to say.

If I don’t answer your call, send me an email or a text. That way, I can glance at what you’ve sent me and take it all in in one visual gulp. Think before you leave a voicemail, because more and more people just find it annoying.

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