The Perils of Audio Messages

Call me old-fashioned, but I like the audio messages feature on my smart phone. Composing an audio message feels liberating: My clunky fingers no longer struggle to pick out letters on a tiny screen; instead, I can roam around, unfettered, pouring out my thoughts as if the conversation is happening in real-time.

I’m a Gen X kid, so it makes sense that a voice message would feel more authentic to me than a text. Even the most expressive piece of writing (emojis optional) can’t replicate the sound of another human’s voice, with all its inflections and underlying emotion.

But recently, I realized that audio messages have pitfalls. Apparently some people don’t love listening to them — particularly if they’re in a hurry and want to the speaker to get to the point. It’s not possible to scan through an audio message the same way you can with a lengthy text. And there’s no back-and-forth exchange of ideas like there would be with a real-time phone conversation. As Emma Brockes writes for The Guardian, “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.”

I think it’s a stretch to suggest that recording your own voice is a flaming example of narcissism. Still, this perspective does give me pause. And in the interim, I’ve discovered a genuine pitfall of audio messages: They’re not always delivered reliably.

A couple of weeks ago, I learned this firsthand. I was having a particularly rough day and texted my sister a stream of melancholy messages. Being the thoughtful, caring person she is, she immediately texted me back and asked if I wanted to FaceTime. But I was in no mood to engage with anyone, so I silenced my phone and tried to find solace in watching the birds flutter and hop about our backyard.

By later that evening, I was feeling more human, so I decided to send my sister an audio message. I thanked her for her texts and calls and asked if she wanted to catch up, perhaps the next day.

The message was marked “Delivered,” but my sister didn’t acknowledge receipt, nor did she call or text me the following day. I wasn’t worried; she’s a busy individual. Maybe she was miffed that I’d taken so long to reply to her messages (and I wouldn’t have blamed her), but I figured we’d catch up at some point, like we always do.

When another day went by, I decided to text my sister just to say hi. I sent a heart emoji and asked, “You got my audio message right??”

She responded, “No I haven’t gotten any of your messages.” She’d been confused and worried when she hadn’t heard from me.

My heart sinking, I scrolled back to the audio message I’d sent her two evenings ago. There it was, still labeled “Delivered” at 8:49 PM. But for whatever reason, it hadn’t come through on her end. My lovely sister, who had been trying to offer me support, probably thought I’d ghosted her.

I apologized and resent the message — along with a flurry of texts explaining what had happened. In the end, all was well, but I realized something important: If you’re using an audio message to communicate something critical or urgent, it’s probably best to go ahead and send a text too. Just in case.

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