Culture

THE VOICE NOTE: LOVING OR LAZY?

It is, as one writer discovers, the marmite of communication

12.01.2021

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Have you noticed that in the age of lockdown, everything seems to be about lists. Like, I wake up in the middle of the night and I write lists, I wake up in the morning and I read lists, I listen to the news and there’s a list of things you can and can’t do. It’s all lists, lists, lists! 

Am I the only one to receive voice notes like this? A micro-rumination catalogue that requires you to listen to its contents but doesn’t quite extend to warrant an actual conversation. Normally, I like to stretch out WhatsApp response times on a Sunday morning. But, staring at the - at once familiar and mysterious - rectangular box just sitting there waiting to be opened, this message from my mother, a thought pulls me in like quicksand. Maybe it’s urgent. 99% of the time it’s not; the list monologue a prime example.

Though, I can’t be completely vexed by such social behaviour. Like mother, like daughter - I too am a voice note devotee. Just less annoying. More purposeful. Or, so I thought, up until fairly recently when one of my closest friends, Peregrine, replied to one I’d sent him.

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P: A voice message?

Me: A voice note! [aha…clearly, he just needs his pal to explain such a revolutionary messaging tool]. Play it.

P: I understand how they work. They’re awful.

Adding that he is only comfortable with two forms of communication: written (“handwritten, text, WhatsApp, DM, email, telegram, Morse code”) or spoken (“face to face, over the phone, including video calls – acceptable”). The substitute for this, he argues, “should not be for people to take no care and just send rambling voice notes.”

Huh?! I’d always looked upon these (relatively) short audio files as anything but careless. Less time-investing than a phone call, but more sentimental than a text. And, in the age of perpetual isolation, this is a good thing, surely? In a recent Financial Times piece, entitled Alone Together, the writer Rebecca Watson spoke to people on how they were navigating friendships in a pandemic. One 28-year-old woman cited voice notes as something of a peace offering in a sea of chaos (“it makes me really listen,” she said. “It’s not to say I don’t listen to my friends, but in a world where we are bombarded with Zooms and phone calls, and we’re trying to see people in a social-distanced way, [it’s about] having a safe space where you can record when you have the headspace and time to do so.”)

“It’s [very] stream of consciousness like in therapy which I like as a form of expression,” agrees mental health writer Clementine Prendergast, when I put a poll out recently on Instagram to gage people’s thoughts (entirely mixed it would appear). “But some people – receiving end – don’t want to hear it.”

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The internet seems to confirm the love-or-loathe it divide. A quick google search of the phenomenon brings up headlines ranging from “poison” “terrible” “obnoxious” to the more forgiving “a perfect way of staying connected.” There’s also a more recent surge in how to send “flirty” audio messages i.e. voice note dating (even if I wanted to attempt this with the guy I am actually dating, from a COVID-safe distance, I’ve tested the waters. In a purely informative, non-flirtatious manner and I know he hates them. He would never confirm this, of course, for fear of hurting my feelings perhaps, but his text-only replies speak volumes). 

Unsure as to whether the voice note will inflict more pain then pleasure onto the person you are sending it to? Maybe just call them. 

WHICH VOICE NOTE STYLE DO YOU HAVE?

  • The panic button pusher: “Call me back!!!”
  • The backpeddler: “Argh, that’s not what I meant. What I mean is…”
  • The one who wants to make sure you received their Instagram message: “I just sent you a meme. Love you, bye.”
  • The dramatist: “OKAY I DON’T KNOW IF I’M BEING OVERLY DRAMATIC…”
  • The conversationalist: “Don’t you think?”
  • The multi-tasker: “Making some dins, but just wanted to tell you about…”
  • The soliloquist: 20 minutes later…“Anyway, maybe we can discuss this more on the phone...”

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