A reader comment on The Guardian article, entitled This column will change your life: the truth about inefficiency, said: "I never answer my phone at work. Why would I? It's just going to be more work. My voice mail is full ... and now people can't leave a message even if they want to."

It reminded me of a guilty secret from the 1990s.

For about a year or two, when my work landline first had a built-in answer-phone, I just stopped answering my telephone. Suddenly I couldn't see the point of picking up. Why would I when there was a more seamless alternative? I just put the ringer on silent and went about my business. It seemed an efficient approach. Oh, the work I got through.
I had a hunch that no one would ring to miraculously solve a pressing advertising department issue. No one was calling to make my life easier. In fact, you could guarantee a caller was only going to cause me problems that would lead to more work. Wasn't I busy enough churning out retail catalogues by the forest-load? Letting all calls go to message seemed a way to differentiate the important issues from the frivolous.

In the process I discovered that 80 per cent of people go away if you ignore them (or else the issue that was vexing them resolves itself in the interim). Of course, I also discovered that a proportion of the other 20 per cent of people complain to your boss if you never return their calls. A memo to these people would read: "Pulling rank in this manner is not the best way to gain the cooperation of underlings. You may win the battle by getting me to speak to you but you are unlikely to win the war now your tattle-telling nature has been exposed."


My abuse of voicemail no doubt frustrated anyone trying to get hold of me. Now, about 20 years on, many of us have become tired of it and opposition continues to grow. The tide has certainly turned against voicemail messages. "Hatred of voicemail is nothing new, but it seems to be building," said The Guardian article.

"They rang me and left a message," I'll sometimes say with the tone of voice normally reserved for referring to people who litter, queue jump or don't indicate. There's a widespread belief that if anyone has anything useful to say a text message is a far more efficient way of communication. If I get someone's voice message I immediately end the call and send a text. Obviously, this presumes we are talking about mobile phones rather than landlines and that the person is not a confirmed non-texter. (By the way, does anyone call a personal landline these days other than telemarketers?)

There are, of course, reasons for speaking to someone by telephone. If you are simply chewing the fat and keeping in touch then a text is unlikely to satisfy. Similarly, two decision-makers speaking to each other can interpret nuances, make decisions - and advance a project faster and more effectively than dozens of texts on the same matter.

It's those prosaic voice-messages we object to. There's no need to make a telephone call just for matter of fact exchanges of information or casual "What's up?" enquiries.

Telephone conversations, relying as they do on two particular people being available to communicate verbally at precisely the same time, sometimes seem like a phenomenon from another era when the pace of life was slower, people were more patient and texting was yet to be invented.

The comments to the article mentioned earlier revealed that a fully-fledged voicemail backlash is underway:

"I have 117 unlistened [to] voicemails."
"I switch voicemail off whenever I get a new phone. A missed call is sufficient for me to decide whether or not I'll ring someone back."
"The worst are the idiots who leave you a voicemail and aren't even capable of telling you what they want, just some cryptic nonsense."
"Even if you announce on voicemail 'Do not leave a message because I will never retrieve it', there's still a profit in it for the carriers involved - the call gets completed and charged for."

This last is an interesting point. Despite the fact that our mobile devices are smart, powerful and intuitive, if we want to rid them of voicemail we have to contact our carrier.


Vodafone's website says: "If you want to have voicemail removed, please call customer services and we will manually remove it from your Prepay or On Account mobile." This must be one of the few processes handled manually in this digital age.
Could the carriers be relying on customer inertia to ensure voicemails remain activated?

What do you think of voicemail messages? Do you leave them? Do you retrieve them? Have you misused voicemail?