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Is this goodbye to voice mails?

Are voice mails obsolete? Does anyone even listen to them anymore? With so many easier ways to communicate, leaving a voice mail may be like putting a message in a bottle. Someone might pick it up — eventually.

Ask any young person. A few days ago at the Trader Joe's grocery in Center City Philadelphia, Surekha Sydney, 27, estimated that she received one voice mail for every 10 or 15 text messages.

"The only people that leave me voice mails are strangers and my parents," she said.

A couple of aisles over, Joe Cotsas, a sophomore at Drexel University, said he tells everyone he knows not to leave him voice mails. If he didn't have to worry about employers calling, he said, he probably wouldn't have bothered to record a personal greeting.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project last fall reported that teens text five times more often per day than adults. Nielsen Co. said teens send an average of six texts every hour they're awake. Texting overall jumped 31 percent in 2010, according to CTIA — The Wireless Association.

This may be why an informal survey of 57 people by the Inquirer found a clear generation gap when it comes to voice mail.

More than half of the 35 respondents younger than 35 said they were in no rush to check voice mail. Seventy-six percent of those younger than 35 said they favored texts or e-mails. Those older than 55 said they preferred phone calls and voice mail.

Checking voice mails often requires a separate phone call, which can be a deterrent. Why waste phone plan minutes if you can just return the missed call? IPhones solve the problem by archiving messages so that they can be played back with one touch, but many young people still don't see the point.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Bob Varettoni noted that text usage had skyrocketed in the past few years, from 9.6 billion texts sent or received by Verizon Wireless customers in the United States during the first quarter of 2006 to 180 billion texts sent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Parents text now, too, if only to keep in touch with their children.

Texting may be efficient, but it doesn't account for nuance. Once upon a time, facial expressions and voice inflections could convey congeniality, but now people rely on smiley faces and exclamation points. Consider how these notes come across:

The meeting is at 2. Please be on time.

Or:

The meeting is at 2. Please be on time :).

One seems imperious, the other good-natured.

Other tensions can arise. For instance, smartphone users send off rapid-fire e-mails and expect prompt responses in kind. But not everyone has a smartphone.

As tedious as it may seem to some, the safest approach is to ask people how they want to be reached.

Barbara "Babbs" Pratt waxed nostalgic about when you could go to the corner store and put a quarter into a pay phone if you wanted to call somebody. "Years ago, when you would see people walking around and talking to themselves, you would think they were crazy," she said. "Now, they're on the phone."

Is this goodbye to voice mails? 06/25/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 25, 2011 5:31am]

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