The phone is dead. Long live voice messaging? 
December 14, 2018
A conversational newsletter by
The holiday season has arrived in a flurry of flash sales, best-of-the-year lists and questionable Christmas-themed comeback albums (I’m looking at you, Eric Clapton).

On the darker side of the communications landscape, consumers also tend to report a surge in telephone scams during these festive weeks, according to The New York Times. The targets tend to be older people who are more easily confused and more likely to rely on the phone to keep in touch.

Despite the rise of messaging and the so-called death of the landline, phone-based frauds are increasing. A recent study found the number of fraudulent calls in 2018 had risen to 30 percent of all calls, up from 4 percent last year.

What’s more, nearly 70 percent of frauds reported to the FTC were perpetrated over the phone, compared to just 9 percent involving email, the Times reports.

The result?
« Fewer people are answering their phones.   

No phone, who dis? 🤨

The death of the home telephone has been anticipated for years, of course. Now it looks like the office desk phone may have reached the end of the line.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the demise of those clunky, complicated desk phones with the “curly cord” that nobody seems to know how to use.

According to the Journal, even traditional firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers have been phasing out their desk phones, encouraging employees to rely on their company-issued cell phones instead.

But in offices where desk phones are still mandated, they’ve become a nuisance, as one employee laments:
« I was told to make an appointment with IT to get a training on it, but I just don’t have time for that.   
Messaging apps, meanwhile, have become part of the office furniture. Computerworld reports that WhatsApp is the most widely-used mobile messaging app in U.K. workplaces, more prevalent than the mobile versions of actual workplace chat platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Given concerns about data privacy and the “wild west” nature of consumer chat apps — a recent study found that 20% of workers across the U.K. have been bullied by colleagues via messaging — companies are grappling with whether to ban them from the office outright, or embrace the channels people are already using to organize after-work drinks.

Voice of a generation 🙊

While picking up the phone may feel like a relic, communicating via voice will never get old.

As we’ve discussed before, sending short voice memos back and forth over chat is the messaging norm in China. More than 6 billion voice messages were sent over WeChat alone last year, according to the Chinese messaging giant.

The Guardian reports that voice messaging is now “having a moment” in the west as well. But as the piece points out, proper voice messaging etiquette has yet to be established.

Is it weird to "speak" them in public? How do you know if a message you receive is urgent enough to play aloud in the subway? As one critic contends: 
« It’s very easy for the person sending... just done in a way that makes it much less convenient for the person receiving the message.   

Call your mother 🤗

As convenient as visual and text-based conversational interfaces are, sometimes there’s no substitute for the human voice.

In a recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia, comedian Cord Jefferson shares a story about his mother, and how he still cherishes a mundane voice message — the old “leave a message at the beep” kind — she left him shortly before her death.

Jefferson explains that his sentimentality is supported by science. In a well-known study a group of girls was asked to take a stressful test and then contact their mothers for moral support. One group called their moms on the phone, while the other checked in via text message.

When they examined blood samples drawn before and after, researchers discovered that the girls who spoke to their moms on the phone had far lower levels of stress hormones and higher levels of oxytocin, a calming hormone. The girls who had simply messaged their moms demonstrated no hormonal change at all. As Jefferson puts it:
« It wasn’t the soothing words they wanted, it was the soothing voice.

In an omnichannel world, every conversation has its channel. That's as true in life as it is in business.

🎅 On that heartwarming note, thank you so much for reading, sharing and replying to this newsletter these past 10 months — spreading The Message has been one of the highlights of my year. I’ll be taking the next few weeks off but will talk to you again in 2019!

Happy holidays,

Dan Levy
Editorial Director
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