The Tyranny Of Voicemail, Overthrown

Because we aren't quite neurotic enough: meet the "voicemail phobics."

As the New York Times' "Styles" section reports, voicemail avoidance is becoming common. Take this dude:

It's not that he doesn't like to talk. But with the cascade of messages he receives by e-mail, texting and on Facebook, Mr. Hamrick, 29, a self-described "voice mail phobic" from Cupertino, Calif., said he'd found better ways to keep in touch..."I had to give up something and that, for me, was voice mail," he said. "It's cutting out some forms of communication to make room for the others."

Apparently, now that we have easier modes of communication, like BlackBerry, texting and email, we're too lazy to bother with dialing in codes and wading through incoherent messages - not least because to a lot of folks, voicemail need not contain any information more pressing than "call me back." Technology is responding to our loathing.

Frustrated by missing important calls while stuck in meetings, James Siminoff founded PhoneTag, now one of a handful of companies that offer voice-to-text transcription services. For a monthly or per-message fee, subscribers' messages are converted into typed texts, which are then automatically delivered to phones or e-mail in-boxes.

I was heartened to read this article, because, to the rage of my family, I have yet to set up the voicemailbox on my three-month-old phone. This is rank avoidance on my part, as the sight of a "message mailbox" always for some reason summons in me a feeling of dread. Even as I'll check a text message immediately and return an email within minutes, I'll put off checking voicemail for days or even longer. Then the messages pile up and the task becomes more daunting still. The problem, of course, is that plenty of people still do use voicemail, not least all doctors' offices. My parents are both of the school who feel morally compelled to respond to a voicemailbox message even if they have nothing to say. Having landlines, for one thing, I don't think they understand that our phones let us know who's called, and as such it's necessary to let me know they're "just checking in" or "saying hi." In my case, part of my aversion is that I can't bear to listen to my squeaky voice, even on the playback necessary to recording the message, and so have let this neurosis cause me far greater inconvenience in missed appointments and angry relatives.

I should probably get that PhoneTag thing. But it sounds like a lot of work.

You've Got Voice Mail, but Do You Care? [NY Times]