Wednesday, March 9, 2016
The death of voice mail
My parents never owned an answering machine or a cell phone, so it wasn’t always easy to reach them from our homes in other states.
For many years, most of us would have found it difficult to not have an answering machine in our homes. Surprisingly, answering machines are actually a lot older than you might think.
In 1898, a Danish inventor named Valdemar Poulsen invented the first practical device used for recording telephone conversations. Refinements to the product were made by a variety of people over the years, but it wasn’t until 1984 (when AT&T was broken up) that answering machines became more affordable, and their use skyrocketed. Sales peaked in the middle 1980’s at a 1,000,000 units a year.
The limitation of answering machines is that they are tied to a particular location, which led to the development of voicemail, which was first introduced in 1980. Initially, voicemail was limited to “land lines”, but it eventually spread to cell phones as those products became more popular in the 1990’s. In recent years, voice mail use has been declining, and I’ll explain why in a few minutes.
The first cell phone came to market in 1973, but it wasn’t until about 10 years later that they became popular. Today, 91% of the American population owns a cell phone.
Like the answering machine, text messaging is actually much older than you might think, since “test messaging” really began in 1876, when the telegraph was invented. By 2006, telegrams were no longer being sent by Western Union.
The first modern SMS (short message service) text was sent in December of 1992 by a young British engineer named Neil Papworth, and its used has exploded since that time. Today, text messaging is used around the world, and it is particularly popular in Asian countries. In 2007, 700 BILLION text messages were sent in 2007.
I bought my first cell phone in the early 1990’s.
It made phone calls, but didn’t do anything else.
Shortly after the start of the new millennium, I upgraded to a phone that also allowed me to send text messages, and I upgraded a few years later to a phone that actually let you take PICTURES.
My “flip phone” with camera remained my phone of choice until we renewed our cell phone contract with Sprint in 2014, when I upgraded to a “slider” phone similar to the one pictured below. Although I don’t send a lot of texts, having a real keyboard made the process a lot easier. At about the same time, I disconnected our "land line", due to the fact that it is no longer necessary to have a land line to get internet service. Since the land line was costing me $60 a month, and was rarely used to make phone calls, I discontinued the service.
When U.S. Cellular was purchased by Sprint in 2012, we decided to switch to that carrier instead of one of the alternatives, and we stayed with them until very recently.
A billing dispute with Sprint a few months ago caused our family plan to get switched to T-Mobile, with less than satisfactory results.
In 2012, Time magazine conducted a survey of the best and worst cell phone carriers in 10 cities. In 9 out of 10 cities, Sprint was considered to be the best cell phone provider. In the remaining city, Verizon came out on top.
In 6 of the 10 cities, T-Mobile was the carrier that had the worst coverage. In the remaining 4 cities, AT&T came out on the bottom.
After switching to T-Mobile in early February, my wife and I found it difficult to make phone calls from our house, and we experienced numerous “dropped calls” both at home and in areas that had stronger cell phone signals. As a result, we switched back to Sprint on Monday of this week. Although the paperwork necessary to make the change was as complicated as buying a car, we’re glad that we made the change, due to the fact that our phone service is MUCH better.
When we switched to T-Mobile, my “slider” phone got upgraded to a basic LG “smart phone” (which was free) , and I found that I liked the additional features that the phone had, ESPECIALLY the ability to use voice commands for navigation and texting.
When we switch backed to Sprint, I considered getting another basic smart phone, but the monthly cost of a MUCH nicer smart phone was only a few dollars more each month, which is why I now own a Galaxy S6, which takes AMAZING pictures.
Like many people, I’ve come to realize that it is no longer necessary to use voice mail, since ALL cell phones have logs for calls received. As a result, you can call back the person who called you without having to endure the banality of a recorded message. If I don’t recognize the number, I’ll frequently Google it to see who it is, which helps to eliminate virtually all of the “phishing” calls.
I no longer attempt to leave voice mails on people’s phones. If I’m not able to reach them when I call, I’ll sometimes send a text that says “call me when you get a chance”, which I can now do without typing anything at all.
Is voice mail ever going to ever die out completely? Probably not, but its use will continue to decline. By the way, it you call me on my fancy schmansy new phone, you’re not going to be able to leave a message, since I am NOT going to set up a voice mail on the phone.
To quote Forrest Gump, “that’s all that I gots to say”.