Requiem for voice mail

FI-Joe-PisaniCoca-Cola, the same people who gave us Classic Coke, New Coke, Vanilla Coke, Cherry Coke,  — there are so many I lost count — recently made a major corporate decision recently and stopped using voice mail.

Instead, people who want to reach the company were told to find an “alternative method of communicating,” like smoke signals, text-messages and Ouija boards. The Atlanta headquarters sent out a memo announcing the decision “to simplify the way we work and increase productivity.” Employees were allowed to keep voice mail if they had a “business critical need,” but only 6% did.

This decision is the result of a behavior change inspired by the Millennial Generation, who sleep with their cell phones under the pillow and shun land lines, voice mail and email.

That generation loves to text-message so much they’ll even text people sitting across the table, instead of looking them in the eye and using their God-given ability to open their mouths and talk with real words instead of mumbo jumbo abbreviations and acronyms like LOL and OMG and ROTFLMAO, which is rated PG-13.

Voice mail is becoming obsolete for several reasons, the main one being no one answers the phone anymore. The only devoted users, I figure, are administrative assistants in New York City who NEVER answer their phones and let calls go to voice mail so a) they can screen them or b) they can finish the discussion around the water cooler about the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars.

It’s almost impossible to get a real person on the phone even when you call the phone company. From corporate America to the halls of government to customer service at major retailers, you have to plod through message trees. If you’re lucky, you might get a living person, but they’re usually living in the Philippines or India.

Adding to the misery, it takes about 64 selections to find out where you ought to be and where you want to be. You have to keep pushing buttons and answering trick questions about the nature of your call. (I just wanted to talk to the boss and wish him Merry Christmas and ask him for a surprise raise.)

After being put in a queue and listening to Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony for several hours, you finally reach the voice mail of the right person, who won’t respond because he’s too busy text-messaging his girlfriend on company time. With service like that, is it any wonder the American economy is limping?

Years ago, when I worked at a daily newspaper in New York, I had a cranky geezer for an editor who refused to have voice mail on his phone. He insisted the staff get off their duffs and walk over to the person they wanted to talk to and open their mouths and speak a language closely resembling English instead of leaving voice mail. If people more people listened to him, it would have prevented the obesity epidemic in America.

In our office, we’re traditionalists. We’re regularly told “send fewer emails and have more phone conversations,” which means I won’t be working at Coca-Cola anytime soon. (Maybe if the people at Sony had more phone conversations and sent fewer emails, Hollywood would be a safer and happier place, where the North Korean hackers couldn’t harm them.)

But if email is the nadir of interpersonal communications, text-messaging is the sewer system, with a lot of stupid acronyms and inane phrases. Besides, all that texting leads to tendonitis and cerebral atrophy. Eventually, the Millennial Generation will be walking around with their thumbs in casts and I hate to think what that will do to healthcare costs in America. It will stress the system more than the aging Baby Boomers.

Wait! I’m getting a text-message from a young person, and it looks angry. It says, “WTH UR part of the MSM. SSDD! DBEYR.”

Got that?

Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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