Letter from the Editor: Voicemail Vexation

A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter from the editor describing my excitement at the possibility of emerging technologies.

I described my new found appreciation for Twitter, though certainly not an obsession, and text messaging replacing normal conversation.

One thing I didn’t mention was the need for certain pieces of this newer technology to change once their purposes are clearly understood and accepted.

The first automatic answering machine was invented in 1935 by Willy Müller. Since that time, the notion of leaving a message after the beep has become habit and only the most persistent of under-rock-dwellers could be unfamiliar with the concept.

And yet our cell phone providers carefully direct callers on voicemail etiquette. After a personal greeting assuring us that the person for whom the call is meant is not able to answer, a polite voice with an eerily robotic timbre reminds us that we must first wait for the tone, then begin leaving our message.

The concept is neither new nor difficult. Perhaps in 1935 a bit of coaching was needed to use Mr. Müller’s machine, but nearly 80 years later, instruction is simply a waste of our time.

However, fearful of “the Man” as I am, one can concoct ideas that this is a carefully hatched scheme between Chad and the Verizon guy with a little help from Luke Wilson. This triumvirate will use that extra 35 seconds of instruction time – which rounds up to one minute – because it may cause us to go over our limit, thus incurring extra charges. Sure, one minute is hardly something to worry about, but a series of one-minute calls and then return calls from the recipient add quickly.

Müller’s automatic answering machine has been reincarnated for a wireless world and sullied by the almighty dollar.

What it will take to convince “Big Cellular” to remove the instructions is anybody’s guess, but in the meanwhile, save yourself the charges and aggravation and just call back later.