Is voicemail dead? Internet guru Michael Arrington thinks so.
On his blog TechCrunch (techcrunch.com), he declared the death of voicemail, adding, "Please tell everyone so they'll stop using it."
Why? Because, Arrington says, people are starting to return phone calls with the explanation, "I saw that you called but didn't listen to the voicemail yet. Is it anything urgent?"
Arrington loves his hyperbole. Don't worry, voicemail isn't dead, but it is getting a makeover. He's right that our approach to cellphone voicemail has changed over time. Text messages are gaining ground; Canadians send 45.3 million a day. And, anecdotally, I've often experienced the ignore-voice-mail phenomenon: my friend Jon doesn't listen to my voicemails, but calls me back when he sees my number. So what's the point of leaving a message?
"Voicemail is not as important as it used to be," says Toronto-based Howard Chui, a cellphone expert who runs the popular phone blog HowardChui.com. "If you want to reach someone, it's not just about voicemail but also about text messaging, e-mailing and instant messaging."
Chui considers texting more useful when travelling overseas. After all, calling your cellphone to check voicemail racks up roaming fees. Receiving or sending a text simply costs you international text charges, a fraction of the cost of making a call.
Another situation where voicemail may be a pain is during meetings. Bad etiquette aside, you can check your phone during a meeting to see a text message much more discreetly than pressing a handset to your ear to hear voicemail.
Some companies are trying to hasten the decline of voicemail with smart tools. Yap lets you send text messages by simply talking into your phone. "When you scan an e-mail, you can instantly see what's important and useful information," says Victor Jablokov, president of Yap. "It's the same with a text. And it doesn't absorb 30 seconds of your life, like listening to a rambling voicemail message."
Yap isn't alone. GotVoice converts your voicemail messages into texts or e-mails, and Grandcentral (recently acquired by Google) centralizes all your voicemail messages in one location, no matter what phone number was called. Webtrepreneurs realize voicemail has evolved from the routine of leave-a-message-after-the-beep.
The brains behind Apple's iPhone are also hip to voicemail 2.0. The iPhone includes visual voicemail, which lists voicemail messages on the screen and lets you choose which ones to listen to or delete. No need to listen to your voicemail greeting and type in your password. As with most technology, visual voicemail wants to save you time.
TechCrunch's Arrington might have overblown voicemail's evolution into such a pain, some experts say. Jablokov believes that great ideas born in Silicon Valley won't flourish unless the mainstream gets hold of them. So voicemail will continue to thrive, he says. "It will be a very long time before the voicemail business has to worry about a sharp decline," he adds.
Voicemail might not die, but it sure isn't looking the same as it did several years ago. Cherish the personality and character of the human voice in those saved messages, because before long, voicemail may morph into a hybrid form: text mail.