Commentary: In honor of voice memos, the most despised form of communication

NEW YORK: Nothing makes me more aware of the pain of an open office than receiving a voice message. I stop everything and pick apart my swamp of tangled headphone cords to listen. Perhaps the most transformational innovation in telecom since texting, they are also the most controversial, both reviled and loved. “People who send voice memos are poison,” argued one thinker.

While leaving a voice note is as easy as tapping the microphone where you normally type with the keyboard in WhatsApp or iMessage, it can be a pain to listen to.

If you just press play, everyone within earshot will hear. They demand your time and attention like a text message readable anywhere, scannable in seconds does not. “There’s something arrogant about them,” a friend said.


But like most new things that I initially hate because they seem unnecessary when in reality they are just different, I am a convert. Now as I walk to the store, I hear tension building in a dramatic retelling of a terrible date straight into my phone.

I am not alone. Since its launch in 2013, voice messaging has steadily gained momentum. In March, WhatsApp said its two billion users sent seven billion voice messages a day, 7 percent of all messages sent through the app.

There is an etiquette for recording lyrics, although not everyone has mastered the rules. They are not suitable for dinner plans or sharing WiFi passwords. They can quickly resemble podcasts in their duration.

In the beginning I hated the self-indulgence, the lack of discipline. Still, there is more room for storytelling if you don’t have to structure a perfect storyline with your thumbs. Parents in my Brooklyn neighborhood watch them push strollers and squeeze rice crackers into their toddler’s palms. A voice note requires only one hand and no eyes for the busy and overloaded people.