WHILE frolicking through Berlin this time last year, I spontaneously fell in love with a German fellow I met in Schöneberg.
Our chemistry was excellent — cycling through parks during the day, eating ice cream and drinking beer in the evening.
Voice messages are an increasingly popular way to chat on phones
But for all our positive traits, there was one flaw so catastrophically severe I could not get past it.
Voice messaging is basically a modern-day walkie-talkie — you hold down the little microphone icon in your iMessage or WhatsApp message box, speak into your phone, and send it off as a small audio file to the recipient.
If I was on public transport and received a message, I’d have to stop, put earphones in (because no one on a quiet train wants to know what your German pseudo-lover is telling you in his German pseudo-lovely accent) and listen carefully, rewinding if I missed anything of potential importance.
To record a voice message in WhatsApp, simply hold down the microphone icon next to your chat bar
Long story short, we are now mere friends.
But to his credit, that lovely German man may have been ahead of his time.
Voice messages have become the dominant mode of communication in some parts of the world. On WhatsApp, over 200 million voice messages are reportedly sent every day.
There’s ups and downs to using the feature. On one hand, it adds a level of depth and emotional meaning to your messages, which could otherwise come off as cold or passive-aggressive if you’re not familiar with the receiver’s texting style.
“Voice messages allow us to gauge mood immediately through tone — a key signifier in human conversation that has become notably absent in our constantly connected but increasingly mute world,” Pandora Sykes wrote in a Sunday Times article called The Rise Of The Voice Note.
She notes its convenience for herself as a new mother, making it possible to have at least one thumb free to answer emails, messages and other queries.
But on the other hand, it can be bloody inconvenient in a social context — particularly if you value discretion in your phone conversations.
The trend never really skyrocketed in western countries — give or take a German lover — but in China it’s been a real hit over the past few years.
According to Quartz, the voice message function has taken China by storm.
On WeChat, the country’s most popular messaging and communications app, you’d be hard-pressed to come across a succession of text blurbs in chat windows. Users simply press a button and speak. Here’s a screenshot of my own conversations with a mate in Beijing:
News Corp Australia Yep, those are all audio messages
This may be due to cultural differences (“Chinese people have less of an aversion to speaking loudly in public than other cultures,” the article notes) and because Chinese characters are notoriously difficult to type.
In the Chinese professional world, it’s a little more complicated — voice messages are only tolerated if they’re sent from a superior to a lower-ranking employee, to the point where they can even be considered a status symbol, according to Chinese investment analyst Zara Zhang.
The vibe it sends in this context — “I’m busy, I’m important and I won’t waste valuable thumb energy on you” — can actually serve to reinforce the power dynamic. After all, sending a voice message makes life easier for the sender, sure, but it’s more time-consuming and potentially difficult for the recipient.
But the “modern walkie-talkie” trend may be catching up in the western world. The Wall Street Journal’s personal tech columnist David Pierce recently penned an article declaring Phone Calls Are Dead. Voice Chat Is The Future.
He argued that voice messages are “faster than a phone call” but “warmer and more human than a text message”.
“In the swing from calls to texts, we lost the warmth and humanity that made the phone work in the first place,” he argues. “We need a way to preserve our most salient mode of communication but strip away all the cruft.”