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VOICES

Niamh O’Reilly Voice notes are the self-indulgent monologues that no one wants to hear

The writer and journalist says she’s had enough of the neverending Whatsapp voice notes.

AT THE RIPE old age of 41, I’ve come to the startling realisation that there are two kinds of people in this world. The type who sends voice notes with wild, gleeful abandon and those who grudgingly receive them. I fall firmly into the latter camp.

In my mind, they are a crime against humanity. And before you think this is merely a generational issue from phone call hating millennials and Gen Z’s, let me stop you right there. It’s not. I’m an elder millennial and I despise these bloated audial assaults. People of all ages are routinely sending voice notes that are the length of War and Peace, because “it’s just easier for them.”

Easier for them maybe, but not for me.

When you hit play on a voice note, how many times have you heard the qualifier, “I was in the car, so I couldn’t text you.” What tends to follow is a person’s unbridled interior monologue spilled out in voice message format.

No, I don’t want your life story told in the rambling stylings of Grandpa Simpson. I likely just wanted an answer to a question or maybe a funny meme sent back to me. If I did want a long chat, I’d do something a bit controversial and phone you for a good old catch up.

Remember phone calls? The lofty purpose the device was invented for in the first place. I even hear there’s this nifty newfangled concept called hands-free calling. Game-changing. Or here’s an even simpler idea, text me back when you’re finished driving, instead of leaving me to sift through rivers of unnecessary verbiage I didn’t want to listen to and don’t really have the time to decipher.

Who wins?

Ease is often cited as the reason people use voice messages in the first place, but we all know that’s not really true. And look, I’m all for ease. I’m from the generation that learned to text on the indestructible Nokia 3310, with its kick ringtone and unending battery life. We were the ones who had a slight snake addiction and had to type text messages using buttons that required several pushes in order to select the wanted letter.

In fairness, we could bang out texts with surprising speed despite the limitations, but there’s no comparison to the relative ease of sending a text today with a one touch, full keyboard at our disposal.

So, when voice note lovers say it’s easier for them, what they really mean is they love the sound of their own voice, and that’s the truth they don’t want you to hear. Most of the time voice notes end up being the self-indulgent ramblings of someone who wants their voice to go unchallenged by the seemingly dying art of a two-sided conversation.

And I hold my hands up, I’ve sent voice notes before. Not really by choice, mind you, I’ve only ever sent them in reply to someone else sending me one first. Initially, it felt like there was some kind of unspoken etiquette involved, whereby you must reply to a voice message with another voice message and not a text. None of this was easier for me, by the way. What would have been easier would have been for me to pick up the phone and speak to the other person, but I tried to get on board with it.

My intentions began innocently enough. I wanted to make my voice note a genuinely quick, easy and to the point reply, but it was a slippery slope. Before I knew it, I was getting distracted by the kettle, giving a running commentary on the tea bag I was choosing and meandering off the point of the message, veering into waffle country with no one to stop me.

What I realised very quickly is that while your voice note might sound super interesting to you, the chances are the receiver doesn’t want to hear your Hamlet-esque soliloquy about everything from the cute dog you passed on the street, to the queue for your latte, before you eventually get to the point of what you wanted to tell them. Unchecked by any timely interjections or human interactions on the other end, essentially, aren’t you just speaking to yourself?

One-sided

It’s this weird form of one-sided, delayed communication that makes people do funny things. For example, I can’t figure out why voice messages seem to make people walk along on the street holding their phone in their hand while talking loudly into the microphone as if they are on an episode of The Apprentice.

Worse still is when they play the returning voice note at full blast on the bus or train inflicting their ‘thrilling’ life drama on the rest of us who have the misfortune to be within earshot of them.

What’s wrong with, I don’t know, maybe putting the phone to your ear to listen to the message or better still slapping in some earbuds or headphones? Christ, they make the obnoxious Dom Jolly sound relatively polite in comparison.

Still, for all the cons and my disdain for voice notes, it looks like it’s an unstoppable form of communication that is here to stay. According to WhatsApp, 7 billion voice messages are sent every day. At first glance, that’s a monumental number, but at the rate at which some people fire them off, I’m surprised it’s not higher, to be honest. As you might have guessed, I’m not one of them and barring some kind of emergency situation, it will never be my default form of phone communication.

In fact, after my brief foray into voice note territory, I’ve realised I’m the sort of person who if you do send me a voice note, I will reply each and every time with a text message, because you know, it’s just easier for me.

Niamh O’Reilly is a freelance writer and wrangler of two small boys, who is winging her way through motherhood, her forties and her eyeliner.

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