Is this the death of voice mail?

According to Vonage, people are leaving fewer voice mails, and retrieving fewer, too. And this could be the sign of an even greater cultural shortcoming.

Google Voice transcription
The beauty of Google Voice's transcription service. Google Voice/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Whenever cultural behavior changes, we cast a wistful eye or simply don't notice.

So today's question is: Do you bother to leave voice mails any more? And when people leave them on your phone, do you bother listening to the message, or do you just see who called and then call them back?

I'm not prying -- any more than usual. I'm just wondering if the evidence presented today by Vonage might conceivably be true.

According to USA Today, Vonage has declared that humanity just can't be bothered with all that voice mail nonsense any more.

It's going the way of the Walkman and the "Now That's What I Call Music!" CDs.

Apparently, 8 percent fewer voice mails were left this July than in the previous one.

And the sheer lugubriousness of checking what your lover or that telemarketer actually wanted is now apparently quite beyond the pressured human cranium. Yes, retrieved messages were down 14 percent.

Vonage speculates that the rise of texting and chat -- and the fact that people just can't be bothered to make phone calls any more -- has contributed to this downward spiral.

Michael Tempora, senior vice president of product management at Vonage, had this pitiful comment on the state of humanity to USA Today: "They hate the whole voice-mail introduction, prompts, having to listen to them in chronological order."

And yet, some might have noticed, seemingly every corporation in the world has replaced its pleasant human staff with machines that talk to you like voice mail prompts. What a strange juxtaposition.

Tempora explained that his company is trying to help the heinously busy can't-be-bothereds by transcribing voice mails, so that they receive them in text or e-mail form.

But surely some things cannot be put in writing. When they are, they lose their intimate flavor, or perhaps even their urgency.

What if the voice mail from your husband says: "I'm leaving you for the poolboy, you heartless harridan"?

Surely you want to listen to the actual tone of his voice to check whether your husband might be joking or tipsy -- or even whether one of his equally tipsy drinking brethren was playing a tasteless prank. (To illustrate the beauty of listening, I have embedded my favorite voice mail, turned into a brilliant PSA by the great Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.)

There are some, apparently, who -- when they receive a voice mail -- text the caller to ask if it's important. These people surely deserve a special little ring-a-roses pen in hell for their behavior.

To bother to expend energy in order to ask someone if the energy they have expended is worth the recipient's while is surely a height which few arrogant oafs have scaled.

It may well, indeed, be that we are past the days of voice mails and even voice calls.

However, surely we can find a more dignified way to mark its funeral than texting: "What do you want? Is it important?"

 

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