SNIPPETS: Actual interactive communication has advantages | Columns


Do you know what it feels like to be in a relationship for years and years – and when you finally figure out it’s just not working, and you’ve made plans to finally end it – you learn you’re having a baby?

Me either. At least not until my voicemail started working again.

Here’s a little background.

One day in October 2021 whenever you would call a government phone number you’d get a message that said “The voicemail service is not available.”

It took a minute for the workforce to figure out just how widespread the issue was, and there has been much speculation on why exactly the service went out.

Personally, I was not too keen to get to the bottom of it, because I thought it was the best thing to happen to me since…

After much thought, deliberation and advice, I’ve determined that the only acceptable way to finish that sentence is to say… since the day I got married.

After going almost a year without voicemail, I was ready to move on.

Clearly, since this was a systemwide problem and the government didn’t come to a screeching halt, that meant having voicemail probably doesn’t play that important of a function in our day-to-day lives.

My general rule of thumb for just about everything is if I haven’t used it in six months then I’m throwing it away. (Before I have to listen to more “advice,” my exception to that rule is I keep boxes that photo gear, electronics, watches or pocket knives come in, just in case I want to sell them one day.)

I absolutely loathe voicemail and it is probably one of the top-10 inventions that has crippled society.

Voicemail’s greatest sin is it moves the burden of communication from the person who needs to say something to the person who needs something said to them.

Here’s a hypothetical.

Let’s say you have an event and you’d like the paper to come out and cover it. For some reaon, despite me distributing my cell phone number in every way imaginable, you call my desk phone. I don’t answer it, so you leave me a message.

Now, the earnest falls on my shoulders to track you down and find out what you wanted.

First, it will probably take at least three days for me to notice the little red light is illuminated on my phone telling me I have a message.

Then I’ll be operating blind, because more than likely your voicemail just said “Hi, I’m so-and-so, please call me back.”

Since it’s been three days and you haven’t called me back, I’m going to assume it’s not that important, so it’ll go to the bottom of my to-do list.

That to-do list will be obliterated 15 minutes after I make it, which means it will be another 24-48 hours before I can call you back.

When I do finally call you back you’ll either not answer or your event has already passed, because the only time someone calls my desk phone is when they’ve waited until the last minute to ask us to come cover it.

As a society we’ve normalized the idea that leaving someone a message – or shooting them an email for that matter – alleviates us from confirming the delivery of a message that someone deemed needed to be delivered by actually communicating with the intended target of the message .

As a working member of the inked-stained wretches, I’ve never had that luxury. There have been hundreds of times when I would first call, then text, then email and if all those failed, I got in my car and drove around until I found the person I was trying to get ahold of.

I realize that in most instances that would be called stalking, but being a journalist has some – though very few – privileges.

And look, I don’t want people driving up to me while I’m walking into a building or grabbing some lunch, that would be a little extreme, but I do think we would all benefit from ending our reliance on voicemail.

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