Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Get Voicemail, Unfortunately

Since the announcement of Google Voice last week, I've been thinking a lot about telephone etiquette, particularly when it comes to cellular phones, and extra-particularly when it comes to voicemail and Internet-enabled smartphones.

I've never really been comfortable talking on the phone. I find it to be awkward, inefficient, impersonal and intrusive.

Voicemail and answering machines have mitigated the intrusiveness of it to some extent - if my phone rings and I'm not able or inclined to answer it, the caller can leave a message for me to respond to later. But given more recent advances in real-time communication, namely the Internet-enabled handheld device, voicemail has become more of a cumbersome annoyance than a useful tool.

For example, if I happen to be in a meeting (which unfortunately happens with increasing frequency these days) I'll probably be unable to answer an incoming call. Which means I'll have to wait until after the meeting before I can check my messages, write down phone numbers and things on a scrap of paper (which I don't possess - I don't use paper) and call the person back to have an inefficient voice-only conversation that will almost certainly have to be followed-up with an email afterwards anyway. Or, more likely, I will have to leave a message on their voicemail system, and wait for them to call me back again.

A colossal waste of time.

If, instead, the original caller had simply sent me an email, it would have been delivered discreetly to my mobile device in real time. During the meeting I could take a glance at it (since I use my device for taking notes in meetings anyway), and, if it's urgent, fire off a quick response then and there. Plus I would have on record the caller's email address, thus allowing me to see who it came from, and therefore be able to contact them with ease again in the future. Easy, quick, efficient, and no trees needed to die.

This is why I need a service like Google Voice - it transcribes voicemail messages to an email and captures the caller's contact details too. Since I live in the 3rd World, and can't get Google Voice, I've had to resort to changing my outgoing voicemail message to instruct callers to send me an email instead of leaving a voice message. They still leave me voice messages anyway, but that's another story.

How do you feel about voicemail? Essential business tool , or antiquated white elephant?


  1. What a great blog! Keep up the good work. If i had a service like Google Reader I would read this all the time!

  2. White elephant. Especially since most people listen to your voicemail message AND THEN NOT LEAVE A MESSAGE.

  3. Yeah, that's a pain too. If only it was possible (on my network) to disable the actual 'leaving a message' part of the whole voicemail system... just have the outgoing message, and then it hangs up.

  4. Let's see: you no longer write by hand because you don't use paper. You don't engage in conversations because you find them awkward. But you have no issues with conducting your own business while attending another meeting. And you wear a Star Trek uniform. Red no less. You need to swap out that uniform for one that the Borg wears.

  5. uh... yeah.

    Although, to be accurate, the Borg don't wear uniforms. Their bodies are covered with shielding and extruding implants... which would be awesome.

  6. We are in the 21st century, and most people still have no clue on how to use the different communication tools we have. Email is not the same as a phone conversation and vice-versa. Yet, there are still people who persevere to exchange dozens of emails to decide when to meet (6:30? -no I can't until 7:30. but I need to be done by 8 ... etc. etc.) for half a day, when a 30 seconds phone call would have solved their problems. And there are the people who leave their address by leaving you a message on your voice mail, when if they had sent you an email you would have it without having to listen to the same message 5 times because you don't get the correct name of the street address. People need to learn flexibility, no system is better than the other, just learn to use them. Maybe that requires thinking first, I know, that's a problem ...

  7. Quite right. It's all about choosing the right medium for the communication you're trying to achieve.

    As uncomfortable as I am on the phone, I concede that it's by no means without its uses. There are certainly situations in which a high-speed medium with no logging is appropriate. For that reason I still consider my phone indispensable (albeit a nuisance).

    My complaint is about the utility of voicemail in particular... I just don't see what voicemail does that email doesn't do better (given the right hardware and software, or course. But those are becoming more prolific all the time, and are virtually ubiquitous in my work environment)