Is voicemail obsolete?

I know I’m dating myself, but I remember the days before voicemail. Heck, I remember the days before answering machines and call-waiting—when the only three options for the outcome of a call were that it either was answered, rang indefinitely, or blared that annoying busy signal.

Answering machines were a step in the right direction. At least if the party you were trying to reach was currently unavailable you could at least leave a message to let them know you’d called, explain why you’d called, and ask them to give you a call back at their convenience if there was more to talk about.

Visual Voicemail in iOS is better than some, but I still prefer text messaging.
Voicemail made answering machines obsolete. The concept is the same, but the messaging is provided as a service rather than stored on a physical device. Voicemail revolutionized communication and enabled a generation of workers to be more efficient and productive by allowing them to say what they needed to say whether the other party was currently available or not.

Now, things seem to have come full circle, and voicemail is facing its own extinction. According to data from Vonage—a VoIP (Voice over IP) provider—reported in USA Today, voicemail usage is on the decline. Email, instant messaging, and text messaging all provide a similar function—enabling a message to be conveyed immediately to a recipient who is not currently available to accept a voice call—but also have advantages over voicemail.

Leaving a voicemail can be awkward and uncomfortable. I often stumble and ramble through, hoping in the end that the message is coherent enough to get my point across. With written messages like emails, instant messages, and text messages, though, it’s much easier to compose your thoughts clearly and say what you mean. Written messages also provide an archive of the conversation that you can refer back to for context, and allow you to include pictures, videos, or other file attachments to support or expand on the message.

The explosion of text messaging has led to a decline in voice calls in the first place. Voice calls are a greater interruption to whatever the recipient might be doing than a text message. There are many instances where holding a conversation would be intrusive or rude, but where text messaging can be conducted on the sly. Most people have their mobile phone on them virtually 24/7, so it’s a virtual guarantee that the text message will be received.

When I call someone and the call ends up in their voicemail, I am unlikely to leave a message these days. If it wasn’t important or urgent, I don’t bother—the caller ID will let the party know that I called and that’s enough for me. If it is important, I’d prefer to hang up and send a text message instead.

It seems to me that voice calls themselves are waning, and the decline of voicemail is just collateral damage from the evolution of communication. Do you still use voicemail? Do you rely on it, or do you consider it a nuisance? Do you find that you, too, are replacing voicemail with newer communication technologies like text messaging?

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