Voicemail has outlived its usefulness

Oct. 29, 2016

“In 1986, the answering machine was a miracle,” writes Joanna Stern in The Wall Street Journal. “In 2016, it’s a joke.” Although I might quibble with the 1986 date (more on that later), I otherwise agree with that statement. “It’s time for voicemail to die,” she adds. If you want to leave a message, send a text or email.

Until voicemail dies, Stern offers some suggestions. You can use a voice-to-text transcription service. However, accuracy can be a problem, and some services—such as that offered by my cellular carrier—charge for the feature. Stern notes that YouMail will transcribe 20 messages per month for free, but only for iPhones. Transcription could be a useful transition technology, enabling you to receive messages from the few individuals or small businesses who don’t have text-messaging or email capabilities.

Another alternative is to turn off your voicemail. Stern cites No More Voicemail, which forwards your unanswered calls “…to a number that keeps ringing and ringing and ringing.”

She concludes, “Of course, there’s always the gutsiest option: Take out your phone and record the following voicemail greeting, ‘Don’t even think about it. Hang up and send me a text.’”

None of this is to say voice telecommunications is no longer important—just that text messaging and email are great ways to set up a time when it’s mutually convenient for two or more people to talk.

As for the time when the answering machine was a miracle—that might extend back to 1949, when, Wikipedia reports, inventor Joseph Zimmerman and businessman George W. Danner created the Electronic Secretary, which used a 45-rpm record for announcements and recorded massages by wire. Answering-machine sales reached 1 million units per year in the U.S. in 1984.

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