Shot by Emma Bowman
Best friends Hope Slope and Bobby Miller first met on TikTok. Although they have known each other for less than a year, they rarely see each other because they live on opposite coasts. But a particular form of communication kept them close: voice messages.
Also known as “audio texts,” “voice notes,” and “voice messages”—not to be confused with the conversion of voice to text through virtual assistants like Siri—voice messaging is a built-in feature of messaging apps including iMessage and WhatsApp.
“Between Bobby and I, we send each other maybe 10 to 50 a day,” said Sloop. “It’s a lot.”
Text messages can muddle meaning, and calls can lead to anxiety. But for many, short audio recordings provide an easier, lower-stress alternative in a world becoming more accustomed to audio media like clubhouse and podcasts.
Being able to deliver tone is a huge part of the appeal.
“We’re able to hear the sheer joy in each other’s voice,” Miller said of her friendship with Sloop. “Or if we’re going through something, just like we’re having a hard time, sometimes in the script the seriousness of the situation isn’t always conveyed.”
Miller added, “It really helps mitigate any of that gray area of what you’re saying. It’s very, very direct and I think it feels more conversational.”
Miller and Sloop, both 24, are no anomaly among their Gen Z cohort. Although the feature has been available in popular apps for over a decade, it has increasingly become a preferred method of communication, especially among the younger generations.
According to a recent YouGov poll Conducted by Vox, 62% of Americans say they have sent voice messages, and nearly 30% communicate by voice message weekly, daily, or multiple times a day. And 43% of 18-29-year-olds who responded to the survey said they use the feature at least weekly.
WhatsApp revealed last year that the average 7 billion voice messages Sent daily on the app.
In isolated times, the boom in voice-friendly technology may affect our communication styles
For some, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated use of the contact form.
Soon after its launch, it became the Chinese messaging app WeChat The feature was added in 2011. WhatsApp came a few years after that. Apple caught in fashion, Voice Messages on iMessage released in 2014.
But in 2020, those who long to connect while at home have found their social salve in voice notes.
“I miss chatting verbally with friends and family members, so these days it’s a relief to hear their voices come through my phone’s speakers.” Nicole Gallucci wrote for Mashable that year.
At the same time, sound-heavy social media came into play. Clubhouse, which launched the same month as the US lockdowns, has drawn millions to the app’s live soundrooms. Twitter responded with an audio-only town hall feature, the Spaces. The dating apps Hinge and Bumble have also caught up to the trend.
As audio messaging becomes a growing preference for consumers, trend forecasting firm Trendera reports a simultaneous shift in increased consumption of podcasts, audiobooks, and other audio-only content.
So voice messages no longer seem like a hop away.
With more people working from home since the pandemic disrupted the workplace, fewer adopters are having to wait until they find a quiet place to listen to audio transcripts.
No wonder Miller who hosts her podcast Covering pop culture, she became comfortable enough with her voice to send her friends minutes long messages.
Her friends jokingly refer to these messages as “Bobby’s Podcast”.
However, the feature has its haters. Tala Cooperman, a jewelry designer in her early 40s Tell The Wall Street Journal. After receiving lengthy voice notes, she believes some of them are taking too long in the absence of general etiquette. “I actually find it very selfish,” she said.
Audio notes can help us bond
Research shows that you don’t necessarily have to be a fan of voice messaging to reap its benefits.
“There is a fundamental method of communication that links humans to their social needs, and that is hearing a voice,” Amit Kumar, assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, told NPR.
to get paper Published in 2021, studied the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of technology-based communication. It was found that interactions involving sound (phone, video chat and voice chat) produced stronger social bonds and no increased feelings of embarrassment when compared to text-based interactions (e-mail, text chat). However, he says his research suggests that “asynchronous” forms of communication such as voice notes, which do not involve back-and-forth dialogue, cannot replace the advantages of “synchronous” calls that allow us to pick up on language cues for a more fluid and responsive conversation.
Attractive voice memo
So, why not choose just call? First, technology fatigue has come to include phone calls.
“For whatever reason, traditional phone calls are increasingly becoming a work-related activity,” said Jasmine Golfin, 36, a director.
Voice notes also don’t require a dedicated time to hop on the phone, she said.
People NPR spoke to for this story said they tend to be more forgiving when expecting a prompt response to audio notes. The fact that read receipts — those timestamps that tell you if you’ve seen a message but haven’t replied yet — aren’t an option in Voice Notes takes some of the pressure off.
“I don’t have the same level of concern about whether or not someone will respond, because I don’t know if they’re listening,” Miller said. “It gives people plausible deniability.”
Then there’s the beauty of the ephemerality of the audio note. On the iPhone’s messaging platform, if you don’t “keep” a voice text within two minutes of receiving it, the message will disappear. (You can also modify the expiration date to “Never” in Settings). This removes the formality of “getting it right,” with the added benefit of not wasting phone storage.
As Gen Zers revive outdated technology, like the movies and Point and shoot camerasSloop believes that the audio note—which evokes walkie-talkies—also caters to the nostalgic tendencies of a demographic that provides a respite from the abundance of other technologies.
Plus, it’s just fun, she says.
“Every time I get a 4-minute, 3-minute voice message, it’s always like, ‘Let me get my little popcorn,'” said Sloop. “Something will be said that will be interesting. It will have a beginning, middle and end. It is a storytelling experience.”
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