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Speak to Me Only With Thine Texts

Speak to Me Only With Thine Texts

In today's increasingly mobile world, it's often difficult to have a private phone conversation or even leave a voice message without being overheard. That's just one of a number of reasons that may be contributing the sharp drop in the use of voice messaging systems. Another factor is that young people who grew up with keyboards may not have well-developed conversational skills. Texting is more comfortable.

By Erika Morphy
09/05/12 3:07 PM PT

Voice mail is following in the footsteps of radio, television, film, records and email. That is, it is a technology that is slowly being supplanted by a newer technology -- in this case text messaging -- and may eventually become obsolete.

So say new figures Vonage provided to USA Today, which reported that the number of voice mail messages left on user accounts was down 8 percent in July from the same month a year ago.

Triple Whammy

"There are three reasons why people are leaving fewer voice messages," said Janet Sternberg, an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.

One, obviously, is the availability of alternative technology -- namely, text messaging. Another reason is that having grown up with texting and email, younger people are losing interest in conversing -- and some don't have the ability to do so effectively or even to leave cogent phone messages.

"Young people, especially, feel awkward on the phone. They are losing social skills -- they don't know how to start and stop a conversation, and a voice mail can be a mini performance in itself," Sternberg told TechNewsWorld.

Worse, from their perspective, is that the voice mail can be played over and over again, she added.

"My students almost never leave me voice mail. Because I don't accept text messages, they will email," Sternberg said.

A third reason for the dwindling use of voice mail is that so many voice conversations are mobile, which means they often take place in public and outdoor locations, Sternberg pointed out, which means they can be overheard.

"Voice leaves you vulnerable to eavesdroppers," she said.

Privacy Is Important

Privacy does indeed seem to be a factor for some people who opt for text over voice, but only for a certain segment of the population. Perhaps people who are frustrated by their eroding privacy on the Internet are overcompensating with other devices.

In the other direction, video chat is also supplanting voice, noted Lawrence Knorr, a corporate faculty member at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

There is a reason for that too, he told TechNewsWorld. "It seems where words are best for a situation, words can be typed. Where emotion must be expressed, video is superior. Voice is in that middle ground and is being squeezed."

Squeezed to Death?

Voice is definitely being squeezed, but it is not being squeezed out of existence, said Paul Booth, a professor at DePaul University specializing in new media technology. "We see this with every cycle of new technology. Something is pushed aside, and its popularity is diminished, but it never completely dies away."

A few years ago, the debate was whether social media would kill email, he noted. "It didn't."

A generation ago, it was whether digital music would kill off CDs and DVDs. To be sure, they have taken a hit, Booth acknowledged, "but they are still around. There are even people who still cling to their records. There is, in fact, a subculture of people fanatical about analog technology."

Voice mail will travel the same path and probably not even deteriorate as much as CDs' marketshare has, he predicted.

"New technologies don't break other technologies -- they just change the way people use them," said Booth.

While a text might suffice for a brief "on my way home now" type of message, he concluded, voice mail will always be used for longer, more involved messages.

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