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Column: In world of texts, voice mail goes unanswered

Confession: I have 140 unlistened-to-voice-mail messages on my cellphone.

They stretch from the present day (Unknown D.C. number, skipped as soon as I heard the recorded voice on the other end) 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."

Voice mails among the general population are down by 8 percent from October to April, and overall, everyone sends something like 60 texts per day instead, and nobody makes land-line calls anymore. 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. ("Siri, what are you wearing?") Why on earth would you waste all this bounty on a phone call?

Phone calls are terrible. Phone calls are slow. Whenever I get a call instead of a text, I heave the same silent sigh I heave when I click on what appears to be a news story and it turns out to be a video instead. "I could have gotten this information so much faster," I murmur to myself.

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. At the dinner table, it is what I look at instead of my family. On the bus, it is what I gaze intently at instead of the human beings around me. People on the subway who use their phones to make calls are frowned upon, subtweeted at and shunned.

It wasn't always this way.

I used to be notorious for leaving voice mails. Voice mails are all the fun of having a captive audience for your remarks combined with knowing that that audience may very well never hear what you have to say. It is like whispering a message into a bottle, then floating the bottle off into the ocean.

But some people are now taking etiquette classes specifically to learn how to leave a good voice mail. You might as well learn how to joust or become a master of the lute. Don't bother! No one will ever listen.

And that is as it should be.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost. © 2014 Washington Post

Column: In world of texts, voice mail goes unanswered 06/23/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2014 3:46pm]

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