Baltimore living column: Waging the war against voice mails

Ellen Fishel
Contact ReporterFor The Baltimore Sun
"Hi, you've reached Ellen Fishel. If you leave a message, I most assuredly will not get back to you."

Hi, you've reached Ellen Fishel. Sorry I missed your call. If you leave a message, I most assuredly will not get back to you — in fact, it's likely I will never actually listen to your message. So please save yourself some time, hang up and text or email me like a practical person.

If I had any guts, this would be my voice mail greeting. No. 1, because it's true, and No. 2, because it's time to universally accept the fact that voice mails are the worst.

It's something my generation has understood since we first mastered t9 texting on our flip phones. And as technology improved, our voice mail hatred grew proportionally. So now that we're well into the smartphone era, it's time to wage full-out war against the voice mail.

Some may write off this aversion as another example of us lazy millennials spoiled by instant gratification. But view it through another lens, and maybe we're just experts at communicating as efficiently as possible. Because when you really think about it, there are very few circumstances when leaving voice mails makes sense.

See, my phone does this nifty thing where it alerts me when I missed a call. It even tells me who the call was from and when it happened! Your phone should do this too (unless you have a super old-school landline, in which case you're a lost cause on voice mails to begin with).

So when I see I missed a call from a friend, I know automatically to return the call — without the help of a voice mail. (If your friend ever leaves you a "Hey it's so-and-so, call me back" message, you have permission to shame them eternally.) If the call is urgent, it's assumed that the caller will follow up with a text.

With email so accessible, this concept extends to professional communication, too. Sure, if your boss calls and leaves you a voice mail, you should listen to it in a timely fashion. But even this is happening less frequently — office voice mails are going the way of the fax machine.

I'm willing to concede that there might still be circumstances when leaving a voice mail is necessary — texts can be too formal in some occasions, and email isn't always an option for, say, a message from your dentist. However, this means that if a voice mail does make it to your mailbox, it's probably related to some dull and/or stressful responsibility you'd rather avoid, thus adding to voice mails' misery.

Either that or it's from your mom, explaining in 21/2-minute detail the story she will repeat as soon as you call her back. You can usually skip listening to these — sorry, moms.

Often, as explained in my faux-greeting, all voice mails of any subject go ignored. And I know I'm not alone. For example, a friend of mine has never even set up voice mail on his iPhone, meaning all of the messages from his mom and his dentist are lost in answering machine purgatory.

But guess what? Nothing catastrophic has happened because of it.

Life would be simpler if we all decided to abandon this awful form of communication — or at least avoid it. The benefits are limitless, not the least of which includes never again having to stress out about how terribly awkward you sound on your recorded greeting.

Seriously, no one sounds normal on those things.

Together, we can make a change. Together, we can defeat the voice mail.

Ellen Fishel's column appears regularly in b.

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