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As I see it: Why we must not put phone down on voicemail

By Simon Kelner

People under 35 scarcely use it." This can apply to so many things these days. A map? A dictionary? But this observation - made by an American academic - referred to something born of the modern world: voicemail.

He was responding to the news that one of the world's biggest corporations, Coca-Cola, had decided to switch off the voicemail function on the phones of all employees at its headquarters in Atlanta.

The reason given was that the company wanted "to simplify the way we work and increase productivity", so when callers can't reach the person they want, they are invited not to leave a voice message but to "find an alternative way" of making contact.

What kind of world are we living in, when even a technological system is rendered obsolete?

We are used to human beings getting replaced by machines - the self-checkout at supermarkets being the most egregious example - but when a recorded voice is given the boot, we know things have taken a serious turn.

Apparently, people under 35 have an antipathy towards leaving a message and many of them don't have the energy, time or inclination to listen to one.

I cannot be alone in feeling the pleasure of making that call you dreaded, the one where you've got to apologise, or the one where you're delivering bad news, and, after half a dozen rings, you hear that perfectly constructed sentence: "I'm sorry I'm not here at the moment, but leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

Oh, joy. This gives you the chance to avoid a tricky conversation, and to express your sentiments in a natural, unmediated and authentic way.

A text, or email, just wouldn't have the same quality. A voicemail is strangely personal: a text is the opposite.

I have some friends whose voicemail message urges the caller to send a text instead.

It's subliminal message is: I'm much too busy to listen to your rambling message, and I don't want to hear your voice, so let's keep our communication on a perfunctory level. In such instances, I leave a voice message just to irritate them.

Not least, voicemails are something of an historical record. I had a colleague who, at the end of a year, made a tape of all the voice messages he'd received and catalogued them, in the way people keep old diaries. I really wish I'd done the same.

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