ALEXANDRA PETRI: Voice mail falls by the wayside in world of texts

June 23, 2014 

Confession: I have 140 unlistened-to-voice-mail messages on my cellphone. They stretch from the present day all the way back to Oct. 15, 2012 (my mother, 26 seconds. Sorry, Mom! Hope it wasn't urgent!).

I really should listen to them. Odds are that between October 2012 and now, one of these messages was important.

It's just that I live by the Millennial Code, which can be summarized in the phrase: "If it mattered, he'd have texted."

The New York Times has picked up on this trend and wrote about it last week. Among the facts it cited: Voice mails are down and nobody makes land-line calls anymore. I could have told you that.

But I don't think this is a terrible development. A phone is not for making calls. Phones are devices that you use to avoid talking to people, and anyone who thinks otherwise is surely older than 30.

Look at your smartphone. This slim, elegant screen can transport you instantly to the Internet, show you videos, allow you to play complex and time-wasting games, send detailed emails and even provide you with robotic companionship. Why on earth would you waste all this bounty on a phone call?

Phone calls are terrible. Either the other party picks up, in which case you have to spend several minutes completely forgetting what it was you had to tell him or her, pausing to allow the other person to speak, then speaking over each other, then pausing, then discovering that you are totally unable to get out of the conversation.

With texts, you can pretend that something important is preventing you from responding instantly. But the instant you pick up the phone, you have to admit that the Action-Packed Afternoon you had imagined you were having actually consists of walking in slow circles around your apartment to avoid laundry.

The only time a phone call is merited is when you are on your way to meeting someone and have arrived at the place and time where you texted one another you would be, and the other person does not appear to be there. Then you call to make sure you're standing on the correct side of the plant.

Apart from that, the only people who still use their smartphones to place calls to live humans are our parents, who use them to call our grandparents' land lines.

To be frank, a phone is just something I carry around so that if I ever wonder about anything, I can answer my question immediately without having to talk to a person. That is what it is best for: avoiding human contact.

Alexandra Petri is on the editorial staff of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071.

The Sun Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service