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The decline of voicemail

I'm actually known as the guy without an answering machine. On one cell phone, I even forgot the password to my voicemail so I haven't checked it for years.

Voicemail totally blows. It all began with the invention of the answering machine, which was cool for a while, along with goofy greeting messages. I think this fad peaked in the 1980s, but by the time it did, there were Hollywood-scale production efforts going into some of the recordings. It was hilarious – for about ten minutes.

I did some of these myself, but it all ended abruptly for me when I began to notice an ugly trend. People got angry if you did not return their calls. It was almost ridiculous how seriously they took leaving the message.

Once, long before cell phones made it nearly impossible to disconnect from others, I took off abroad for a couple of weeks. I came back home to find the machine clogged with around 300 messages. I tried to sift through these messages and respond but noticed that many people had left multiple, increasingly angry messages. It was as if I was some horrible person for not getting right back to them. After this, I completely gave up on having an answering machine and refused to deal with voicemail ever again.

I have discovered that if the phone rings and rings and no voicemail picks up, the caller feels guilty, assumes he or she has the wrong number, or is befuddled by the fact that there is no answering machine. This is fine because I'm never to blame. When I fail to return a message, on the other hand, it is always my fault. It's a game of tag and I am it. I prefer hide and seek.

I've always felt that unless you're a doctor on call, there is no reason to be so connected.

Now, thankfully, we have texting, which has eliminated the hassles since there are essentially no rules. You send a text and the recipient either replies or doesn't. If you get to chatting back and forth, either party can kill the conversation for any reason. Nobody is mad. Most importantly, there is generally no urgency. If something is urgent, you can call. Texting appears to have replaced voicemail completely.

The efficiency of texting is amazing. When you look at your phone, you can read a text and that is the end of it. With voicemail, you receive a text indicating that you have a voicemail. Then you must call your voicemail, key in your pin, and put up with a menu just to listen to the message. Half of the time, there is no voicemail at all, but rather someone hanging up or an accidental pocket dial. Again, you must go through yet another menu to listen to the next messages or erase them.

Often times, you cannot understand the message anyway. It's dumb. If you want to have some fun with your friends that use answering machines, leave them a garbled message. Get real close to the microphone and mumble so that your words sound completely distorted. Wind them up a bit and get them concerned by interspersing the odd clearly spoken word such as "police station," "warrant" and "immediately." It is a great gag.

And yes, as far as I'm concerned, that is all voicemail is useful for – a gag. Good riddance to it.