In the giant, all-encompassing list of life’s huge and enormous inconveniences, I would rank “receiving a voicemail” as number one. Death would be number two.
I haven’t always hated voicemails. On the contrary, when I was a kid, I used to love them. What would happen back then is, someone would call – presumably during dinner, which would result in at least one “son of a…” from my parents – and then we would wait the four rings to see what would happen. Would they leave a voicemail? Would they hang up? The suspense was thrilling, largely because, back then, we had no further way to amuse ourselves.
If they did leave a voicemail, you could sit there and listen to the entire thing as they were leaving it. Seriously: we’d be eating dinner, and someone would call, and the answering machine would turn on, and suddenly you’d hear “HI THIS IS SUZIE FROM DR. ROSMAN’S OFFICE. I WAS CALLING TO VERIFY NEXT WEEK’S OPERATION ON YOUR SCROTUM.” And we’d sit there, eating, pretending not to notice the fact that Suzie was essentially standing in our living room, talking about scrotums.
But times have changed, and I now believe voicemails are a dramatic hindrance to my day-to-day living situation, much like tolls, and door-to-door solicitors, and high winds.
Allow me to provide an example. Say I’m sitting in a meeting. I know this is a bit of a stretch, because I haven’t attended a meeting since my days at Porsche, where you could play a meeting drinking game with the phrase “best practices” and end up, at the end of the day, dead. But just pretend for a moment that I’m an upstanding citizen, like you, and I have to at least iron my clothes in the morning before I log on to my computer and start deleting e-mails
So anyway: I’m sitting there in the meeting, and someone calls me. This is already a tremendously old-fashioned thing to do, because I am reachable at any given moment in literally a dozen other ways. E-mail. Text message. iMessage. Snapchat. Facebook. Gchat. Even Instagram purportedly has a messenger service, and people are always telling me to check it, although, after considerable searching, I have never figured out how to do that.
But in spite of all these other ways to reach me, this person calls me. It’s usually my parents, who probably still have that old answering machine to this day. In fact, they’re probably sitting down to a lovely lunch right about now, watching a daytime baseball game, while Suzie yaps away in the background about scrotums.
So a few minutes after the call, I feel it: a vibration. They’ve left a voicemail.
Now we have a problem, because I’m stuck in this meeting, and there is absolutely no way I’ll be able to check my voicemail. If it had been a text message, I could subtly pull out my phone, and see exactly what the situation was. But it’s a voicemail. So it’s sitting there, unread, in my voicemail box, essentially taunting me. You have no idea what this says, it’s saying. It could be ANYTHING! Mwahahahahahah.
And then my mind starts racing. Why are my parents calling? They know I’m at work. Did something happen? They wouldn’t call unless something happened. Is there a problem? Is everyone OK? After a while I realize I absolutely have to excuse myself from this meeting, but that is simply impossible, because our chief operating officer is currently going on about best practices in ninth floor toilet use.
So I sit there for 45 agonizing minutes as he drones on, and then entire time I’m getting more anxious about this voicemail. What if my mother has fallen? And she can’t get up? And she’s lying there, unable to move, unable to do anything, except listen to voicemails as they come in? What if she’s been abducted? By kidnappers? Who have left their ransom demands as a voicemail? And they’re going to start chopping off her toes if I don’t respond right away? Small toes first? Then big toe? Until eventually her feet look like giant pink horse hoofs? All because I didn’t get this voicemail?
And then it happens: the meeting adjourns. We all tentatively agree to come back tomorrow for a meeting on office plant watering best practices. And I run into the hallway, and hurriedly pull out my phone, and navigate to the voicemail, and…
Hey Doug, it’s your mom checking in! Just wanted to say hi. Hope everything’s going OK! Anyway, that’s all. Talk to you later!
THIS is what I had gotten so worked up over. One little innocent voicemail just saying hello. And it isn’t just my parents: my doctor’s office leaves voicemails. Business associates. Repairmen. Those bastards at Comcast, reminding me to return a device I never possessed. All enjoy calling and leaving their voice on my phone, in an apparent effort to get in touch with me as slowly as possible.
Yes, yes, I understand that some people don’t mind voicemails. But I’ve decided to take a stand: no more voicemails. Send me an e-mail, or a text, or a message using one of the dozens of other ways you can reach me. Do that, and I promise I’ll reply faster. Unless you use the phrase “best practices.”
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.