Voice messages, sometimes called "voice notes" or "voice texts," are short audio recordings that people send to each other (not to be confused with voicemail) and are a feature built into popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, and Telegram.
You may have noticed: They've been popping up in more group chats and one-on-ones lately. Sixty-two percent of Americans report sending a voice mail, and about 30 percent communicate this way weekly, daily, or several times a day, according to a YouGov random sample survey of 1,000 American adults conducted for Vox. Young people are even more likely to use voice messaging, with around 43% of 18-29 year olds who took part in the survey saying they use the feature at least once a week. WhatsApp said last year that more than7 billion voice messagesare sent daily in the app. Some even communicate more with voice than text, according to Zafir Khan, head of consumer products at WhatsApp.
"I use voicemail every day," Kennedy Dierks, a 21-year-old grad student at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, told me. "I think it's a lot more personal than texting."
Dierks said the popularity of voicemail on his college campus has exploded over the past year. For example, she said she recently used the feature to give a friend a rundown on a date she was on a date with because it's easier to "fix it" than via text. In general, voice notes are popular because they allow people to share the richness that comes with voice communication, such as: B. Tone, Mood and Mood – without the pressure of bothering someone with a phone call.
"It scares me to think that I'm going to catch someone on the phone at a bad moment," said Hannah Ayla, a 30-year-old graphic designer from Tampa, Fla., who says voicemails "saved her relationships" with her was struggling with chronic arm pain and couldn't send text messages.
However, voicemail also has disadvantages. They can be tiresome to listen to if they're too long or incoherent, which can often happen. And it's difficult to discreetly send a voice memo when you're in a meeting or at work.
"I respect the fact that most people think, 'I don't want to have to stop and listen to you for like three minutes. I just want to have a back-and-forth conversation,'" said social media consultant Matt Navarra, who is a power user of WhatsApp voice messages. "It can be quite annoying that you monopolize your time."
In my experience, I use voice memos to keep in touch with friends who live abroad in very different time zones. Voice messaging allows me to give them meaningful updates about what's happening in my life without overwhelming them with multi-paragraph texts. I think it's a more thoughtful form of communication. While it may take longer to listen to a two-minute audio clip than it does to skim a text, audio messages put less pressure on me to reply immediately, allowing me to really listen to what my friends are saying and respond when I have time. to share a profound answer.
Voicemail gives us some of the emotional depth and nuance that short texts that compress our feelings lack. The fact that people are adopting a relatively new and more expressive message format for speaking to one another may reflect a deeper phenomenon: our desire to strengthen relationships as the horrors of the pandemic begin to recede and we emerge from a time of crisissocial isolationelonliness.
I spoke to several avid voice message users and delved into the research behind voice and text communication to better understand why people accept voice messages and how they shape our relationships.
The Science of Voice Messages
There's a scientific reason why people prefer voice over text in some situations: we can understand each other better when we really listen.
Research has shown that by listening to someone for just a few seconds, people can pick up what are called "paralinguistic cues" that we don't get in text. These cues — like someone excitedly speaking a little louder — help people get their intended message across, especially when it comes to communicating complex emotions like sarcasm or humor.
While paralinguistic cues can be subtle, they're "humanizing" reminders that everyone you're listening to "is a thoughtful and sensitive person," said Juliana Schroeder, a professor in UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
Schroeder's research has shown that not only are people more likely to have "empathic accuracy," or a better understanding of a person's state of mind when listening than reading what they say, but they also seem to find the person snappier and relatable as well. When people listen to someone instead of reading what they have written, they perceive them as "brained" - meaning sane, emotional and entertaining - Schroederstudy found.
In one experiment, when confronted with a person holding conservative political views, people with liberal views had a less negative perception of the communicator when hearing them speak compared to reading a transcript of the same audio.
On a more personal level, the research agrees with what I've heard about why people like voicemail. I've been told by several people that they use voice messages to express complex feelings that can be confused with text: like checking if someone you're worried about might be mad at you, or vice versa, someone to show it's really you. Don't get too excited (we've all panicked at the inscrutable "k" or "okay" text). Essentially, voice messages can help eliminate misunderstandings.
"Sometimes in friendships there's a compulsion to apologize for something that might not even bother the other person," said Ashley Alderton, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and uses voice messaging frequently. "If you're trying to calm someone down, it's a lot easier to do it with your voice because you can show warmth."
More than warmth, there's a sense of authenticity to voice messages that's harder to achieve with text.
For example, Ayla said that when she had to cancel a date at the last minute due to sudden surgery, she sent a voice memo instead of a text message.
If she texted him, "it would sound really fake," she said. It's a good thing she didn't, Ayla said, because her boyfriend (who is her boyfriend now) said he probably wouldn't have believed her if he hadn't heard her explain the situation.
There's another important reason why some people are more personal in audio than in text: it feels more private. In iMessage, audio messages disappear after two minutes by default, giving them an ephemeral character. Of course, if someone wanted to, they could save and upload the audio - so the sense of privacy can be a false sense of security - but that's still why some people said they felt more comfortable sharing personal information share via email.
Adding to the rather unfiltered feel of audio messages is the fact that many people send them immediately without questioning what they're saying. In both WhatsApp and iMessage, voice messages are sent instantly by default. While both apps give you the option to listen to your message before sending it and re-record it if you need to, it's a lot easier to send a message without thinking about it - a task that's harder to accomplish with texts.
"I just lift my finger and let go," Ayla said, explaining the simple pinch-and-record mechanism for sending an audio message. "If I heard it again, I would never send one."
Many people who send voice notes said they did so because it simply takes less effort than composing a text, especially for more impromptu conversations.
"If I'm talking about something really stupid like we're talking about a reality TV drama or just a silly story, it would take a lot longer to write that than it would to rant," Alderton told me.
an international balance
While voice messaging seems to be growing in popularity in the US now, internationally it has long been popular, especially WhatsApp which has offered this feature since 2013.
Voice messages are "a balance because not every language is easy to type," said WhatsApp's Khan, who uses the feature to keep in touch with relatives in Pakistan who speak Urdu - but can't read and write. In the YouGov survey of 1,000 US users, about 13% said they use voicemail specifically to overcome language barriers.
Voice messaging is also more popular in some parts of the world than others because "in some cultures people seem to be naturally attracted to language," Khan said. It is particularly popular with WhatsApp users in Latin America and West Africa, for example.
Gloria Felicia, a 27-year-old San Francisco-based tech entrepreneur and startup consultant for Spero Studios, said voicemails are not that common with her family in Indonesia.
"It's almost rude when they send you voicemails," Felicia said. “But in China, I know that voicemail is part of everyday life for many of my friends. ... Even in a personal relationship like a boyfriend-girlfriend situation, I know people who hardly text each other. They just respond to each other's voice memos throughout the day.”
Part of voice messaging's international appeal may be due to the fact that it's a core feature of WhatsApp, which has historically had a much larger non-US user base (although recently thefastest in North America). Meta's own app is the most popular messaging app in countries like India and Brazil.
In many countries, "it's not uncommon to see some users communicating primarily using voice messages and even more than text," Khan said. "We want to be an app flexible enough to allow people to communicate in the way that works best for them."
Just a fad or a big change?
It's clear why people like voicemail. But are they really improving our relationships in meaningful ways? And they come and go like other audio fads (rememberclubhouse)?
Several studies have shown that people feel more socially connected when communicating over the phone, rather than using text-based communication. We don't know if these results apply to voice messages, which unlike phone calls are "asynchronous," meaning you're not talking to the other person at the same time, according to Amit Kumar, a professor of marketing and psychology at UT Austin, whoresearch conductedAbout the topic.
Speaking to Kumar via video chat recently, he explained the benefits: "As we chat, I see you nod when I say something and you can ask questions... and I can respond in real-time. “The back-and-forth creates social bonds over phone and video calls, but that bond may not be as strong with voice messaging.
They can also be less convenient than SMS because they take longer to listen to.
That's why voice memos aren't for everyone. Navarra said some people don't want to be disturbed by listening to voice memos, which he says is far more beneficial to the sender than the recipient.
"It's a pretty selfish style of communication," he said.
WhatsApp's Khan acknowledged that listening to voice messages "can be more complicated than text," saying that's why the app has rolled out features that help make voice messages more convenient for people who don't have time to listen, for example faster playback speeds. The company is also testing automatic transcription for voicemails — which could help people get voicemails faster, but also takes away some of their personal appeal.
Even with these features designed for convenience, voice messages can still be more time-consuming (for the recipient, at least) than text messages and don't have the same benefits of "synchronous" communication as a phone call or face-to-face chat. . . researchers say.
"I find it odd that people are choosing this technology," said Jeffrey Hall, professor of communications at the University of Kansas, "because in some ways it introduces communication inefficiencies."
But with voice messaging, compensation is part of the goal. Voice messaging will never replace the efficiency of a text message or the real-time connection of a phone call. Voice messaging is a compromise between these two mediums.
At a time when there are seemingly endless ways to communicate, it's important that people choose voicemail. This suggests that people – especially young people – are taking more responsibility for their daily communication habits. Not only are they standardizing on texting, calling, or video chatting, they're experimenting with new ways of speaking that feel more natural to them. For that reason, I bet voicemails are here to stay — even if it means it's becoming more normal to spend 15 minutes listening to voice memos describing my friends' disastrous first dates.
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