Voice messages may replace texts and phone calls as the next dominant trend.
Voice messages may replace texts and phone calls as the next dominant trend.

How the smartphone generation killed the phone call

YOU'RE all settled in for a Sunday night of Netflix and a bottle of wine for one, when your phone rings.

In an uncharacteristic moment of bravery, you set aside your glass and answer it.

"G'day larv! Just wanted to check in!"

Oh no. It's your Frumpy Friend Colleen, feigning a trivial question she needs answered so she can infiltrate your peaceful night with meaningless discussions about her fruitless quest for companionship.

As Colleen tells you about her dinner, her latest illness and the snazzy $10 Bargain Blouse she just picked up from Kmart - while ignoring your polite attempts to terminate the conversation - you silently curse yourself repeatedly. Why did I pick up the phone?

The Aimless Phone Chat has arguably become one of the greatest millennial sins of the social media world.

But it's not just because people can't take a hint. Over the past decade phone calls have increasingly become a no-no - an act that's seen several media outlets describing millennials as "Generation Mute".

There's plenty of data to back this up. A recent finder.com.au survey of 2011 Australians across a broad age range found that 68 per cent of Baby Boomers used phone calls as their primary method of communication, while only 7 per cent using Messaging apps.

By comparison, only 27 per cent of Gen Y and 23 per cent of Gen Z preferred phone calls, while 62 and 64 per cent respectively preferred texting or using messenger apps.


When Lady Gaga sang about not wanting to take a phone call, was she just talking about millennials?
When Lady Gaga sang about not wanting to take a phone call, was she just talking about millennials?

Across all generations, 56 per cent of Aussies avoid calling, choosing instead to text, use messaging apps or emails as their preferred way to keep in touch.

"Talking on the phone is no longer the most common way for us to reach each other," said Finder tech expert Angus Kidman. "Gen Y has become so accustomed to the beeps and notifications of DM's and email, the sound of a ringing phone is a distinct novelty."

He said there were benefits and dangers to new forms of communication which don't require us to talk to each other.

"It's certainly efficient to send someone a message and get an instant reply and it places a value on the other person's time, but there can be a greater risk of misinterpreting someone in a message," he said.

But how and why have we moved away from chatting on the phone?

Millennials grew up seeing the gradual erosion of calling. In the 1990s it was dial-up internet, AOL Instant Messenger and online chatrooms with ICQ.

In the early 2000s we used the slightly more sophisticated MSN Messenger, Bebo and MySpace, which had inboxing features that basically worked like a clunkier version of Facebook Messenger.

The real transition occurred around 2010, when WhatsApp emerged as one of the most common messaging apps. Facebook Messenger and Snapchat were launched the following year.

Suddenly we could communicate with anybody in the world from our pockets - and it was completely free provided you had an internet connection.

We stopped saying "BRB" (Be Right Back) - one of the most frequently used terms of the MSN Messenger days - because we stopped leaving our devices.

Messages are arguably less intimidating than calls; you don't have to think on your feet as much.

Of course, there are benefits to phone calls. They convey a subtlety and emotional nuance that text messages are limited by. Hell, studies have been done on how ending a text message with a full stop can be construed as passive-aggressive.

At the same time, they can be more quick and efficient than a series of back-and-forth text messages, provided you can cut straight to the chase without becoming a Colleen.


Voice messages may replace texts and phone calls as the next dominant trend.
Voice messages may replace texts and phone calls as the next dominant trend.

Some commentators have suggested voice messages - an audio file that can be sent from one person to another like a modern walkie-talkie - may be the next trend; kind of like a happy medium between the efficiency of phone calls and the comfort of texts.

The Wall Street Journal's personal tech columnist David Pierce recently penned an article declaring Phone Calls Are Dead. Voice Chat Is The Future.

He argued that voice messages are "faster than a phone call" but "warmer and more human than a text message".

"In the swing from calls to texts, we lost the warmth and humanity that made the phone work in the first place," he argues. "We need a way to preserve our most salient mode of communication but strip away all the cruft."

Maybe in another decade, we'll be writing this exact same story about text messages.

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