Leave a comment

To my horror, gen X is turning to voice notes – I don’t want to hear your mini-podcast | Emma Brockes

To my horror, gen X is turning to voice notes – I don’t want to hear your mini-podcast | Emma Brockes
To my horror, gen X is turning to voice notes – I don’t want to hear your mini-podcast | Emma Brockes

There is a joke in the first season of the HBO show Hacks, pitched by Hannah Einbinder’s gen Z character, Ava, to her boomer employer, Deborah Vance: “I had a horrible nightmare that I got a voicemail,” she says. Ha – gen Z hates voicemail; boomers don’t understand jokes without punchlines. “What?” shrieks Jean Smart’s Vance. Ha – everyone’s disgusting, and no single generation will give an inch to another.

Sorry to insert gen X into the mix, but in the context of this particular flashpoint, we need to talk about voice memos. (Or audio messages, or voice texts, not to be confused with voice-to-text, which is something else entirely – all right, Grandma?)

It started, for me, a few years ago, with friends leaving voice memos because they were driving and couldn’t respond to texts in the conventional way. This was annoying but OK because it was a safety consideration. As time went on, the goalposts changed. Audio messages started showing up in other contexts, often opening with the semi-apology of “can’t be arsed to type”, or a sheepish plea for understanding because someone’s hands were full. The pretext was efficiency, enabling the sender to communicate while walking down the street or unstacking the dishwasher, and if the tone was self-conscious, it was because, in my generation, we were not voice-memo natives and couldn’t safely predict how the medium of the message might land.

Anyway, that was the beginning. Since then, of course, people have been seduced by the potential of a bottomless bucket into which to dump their slight thoughts – and have promptly lost their minds. (I’ve just looked this up and, indeed, when it comes to voice memos, “the only limit is the capacity of your iPhone’s internal storage”. And your imagination!)

I remember the moment, several years ago, when the first communication governed by what was to become standard voice-memo protocol – three messages left back to back, of more than three minutes apiece, from a friend who’d hung up, had further thoughts, hung up, left another message she’d deleted and then gone in on her three-minute finale – landed, causing me to stare at my phone in horror. This wasn’t a message, but an audience with a one-woman show, a podcast I hadn’t signed up for. She was my friend, yes, but this wasn’t friendship, either. This was hostage-taking.

It remains curious that, given the similarities, voice messages are embraced where voicemail is dead. The interface and point of access of a voice memo is more appealing than voicemail, embedded as it is within the flow of an existing text conversation. And the voice memo gains, perhaps, from being a channel associated exclusively with friendship. Your bank isn’t leaving you audio WhatsApps; and, as far as I know, spam or robo voice memos don’t exist either. And so, as a recent poll in the US found – that more than 60% of Americans say they’ve sent a voice message, with the bulk of users under 30 – the numbers are huge. In 2022, WhatsApp calculated that about 7bn voice messages were sent on the app daily.

It’s hard not to see all of this as a minor expression of generally rising levels of narcissism. Apart from the sheer uninvited trespass on one’s time, the solipsism of a one-sided conversation, and the fact you have to wait for minutes at a time to get to the point of the message, the main problem with voice memos is the very large gap between the message leaver’s idea of how entertaining they’re being and the reality for the person experiencing their 90-second set. Your flights of whimsy are neither as fanciful nor as whimsical as you think. Also: your live response to what’s happening in the street while you talk isn’t something anyone else needs to know.

Anyway, all of this was my opinion until last week, when a dear, dear friend left me three voice memos in a row and I decided, late in the game, to retaliate with my own. I’m not an early adopter; I’d never left a voice memo before and the first was along the lines of “is this thing on?”

Ha! I thought. How charming this will seem. And then I got going. My God. Have you done one of these? I started off on point, then something in my kitchen caught my eye and I did 15 seconds on that. I digressed with thoughts about a mutual friend. Then my kids came in the door and started yelling at me about something – oh, she’ll love this, I thought! It’s practically audio vérité! Rounded out with a joke. What a gift to the recipient. What a moment for me. What a performance!

Source link

Leave a Reply