Why I dislike videos and voicemail

2009-10-19

in Rants

Of all the ways in which information can be presented, videos and voicemail messages are among the most inflexible. While they can be quite good when you are fully interested in the subject matter and have the time to engage with them, they lack vital characteristics of written text. Notably, they cannot be easily skimmed to determine the degree to which they are relevant and interesting. They also cannot be searched for keywords, or automatically filtered on the basis of content. Whereas my emails are subjected to dozens of filtering rules that permit me to understand the content of many messages at a glance, no such approach is possible with videos or voicemail. Furthermore, they cannot be easily integrated into other activities, since they often require both audio equipment and privacy.

As such, I tend to set them aside (often for days or even weeks) and then go through all of them at once. As a result of this, they are an unusually poor way to elicit a prompt response from me. In order to make people more aware of this preference, I added a little coda to my outgoing voicemail message, suggesting that those wanting a quick response should try email instead.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Edward October 19, 2009 at 8:36 pm

I disagree with you somewhat, although I understand your preference for e-mail. With voicemail (or phone/speech in general), you are able to derive information from a person’s tone of voice. With video, you have the added benefit of visual information from facial expression as well. In the often-cited Mehrabian study from UCLA, it is claimed that far more information is conveyed non-verbally than verbally during face-to-face communication. We aren’t referencing the same conditions as the study, but video and voice do add some of these elements to the communication.

I agree that e-mail is a highly efficient means of communicating because a reader can cut through the extraneous information. But it isn’t the best means of communication for every situation, and well-planned and appropriately-targeted messages by video and voice can be effective as well.

Hope this earns me an entry into Milan’s Google Wave sweepstakes :)

Tris October 19, 2009 at 10:06 pm

The traditional position was something like “videos are too quick and superficial – text leaves you time to think. With text you can be more engaged and thoughtful”. Your position seems to be the ultimate opposite: you dislike videos because they require too much engagement, too much commitment. I don’t mean to be critical of you personally – in fact, I completely empathize with your position. It represents something that is true today about the speed of information, the opportunity cost of knowledge, and the colonization of time by the myriads of external forces constantly pressing upon us.

Milan October 19, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Hope this earns me an entry into Milan’s Google Wave sweepstakes :)

Sure. I made a note of it on the contest page.

Milan October 19, 2009 at 10:57 pm

It represents something that is true today about the speed of information, the opportunity cost of knowledge, and the colonization of time by the myriads of external forces constantly pressing upon us.

I deal with so much information every day:

  • At least ten email accounts, three highly active
  • Two phone lines, with voicemail
  • A complete issue of The Economist per week
  • BBC, Slate, and Globe and Mail headlines daily
  • Dozens of blogs, many of them highly active
  • Discussions on my blog
  • Instant messages
  • Waves
  • Google Alerts
  • Text messages
  • Comments on certain blogs I follow
  • Mailing lists
  • Etc.

When I watch a video, I want it to be something escapist, so as to relax for a while.

Ryan C. October 19, 2009 at 11:23 pm

This is probably why Google has introduced (will introduce?) that service to its free phone service that will transcribe voice-mail and send you an email of transcript…

Milan October 19, 2009 at 11:24 pm

I am very keen on that.

I actually have an invite already, but the service is only available in the US at this point.

. October 20, 2009 at 12:13 am

On Time and Engagement in the Present
October 20, 2009 by northernsong

Today, two events occurred that together brought me to a clarifying thought about the ways we are in-time today. The first was a conversation with a retired professor, and the second was an entry on Milan’s excellent blog.

Milan’s post argues that voicemail and video are his two least favorite forms of communication because they can not be:

“easily skimmed to determine the degree to which they are relevant and interesting. They also cannot be searched for keywords, or automatically filtered on the basis of content.”

This is an interesting reversal of the standard critique of video. When I was younger, even in grade eleven, professors used to argue that the difficulty with pre-produced media as opposed to written text was that they were too fast, that they didn’t provide time for reflection and engagement. That instead of being engaged in a text, you were deported by a film – that it kept going when you naturally would have stopped to think. Here, the opposite point is being made – film requires too much engagement, they are too quick (they cannot be “skimmed”). Text on the other hand becomes what film used to be – the quick, easy, fast, convenient way to learn about something that is not very important to you, whereas film is now only good “when you are fully interested in the subject matter”.

alena October 20, 2009 at 5:02 pm

I strongly prefer hearing a person’s voice to receiving an email. A person’s voice relays emotion and a connection that is personal. An email can present a cruel and painful message without any warning to the recipient. The same goes for joy. The tone of a person provides you witha subtle warning and can be helpful too.

oleh October 21, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Interesting question of preference. It may be a question of when you grew up. As someone who grew up without email, voicemail works better for me. However I have noticed a shift. I estimate I would get about 8 voicemails in an 8 hour day, that may now be down to 4, in part due to the increased use of email. Also it is an increasing expectation that you will be there to answer email.

Milan, is a text a good way to communicate with you and how often do you check them?

Milan October 21, 2009 at 5:25 pm

I almost always have my phone with me, so I receive texts more or less instantly.

Emily October 21, 2009 at 8:16 pm

In my experience, writing emails is a much easier venue to organize my thoughts in. I tend to ramble, so I prefer just sending an email that I can reread and edit rather than endlessly mumbling on someone’s voicemail.

That being said, I think there’s an interesting generational preference that goes beyond simply being more or less accustomed to one method of communication.

I think younger generations are much more attuned to nuance and nettiquette in emails. For instance, where a 60 year old might type, without thinking twice, ALL IN CAPITALS, a 14 year old today wouldn’t dare type an email in capitals unless he was in a hormonal rage – or LARPing World of Warcraft.

Emily October 21, 2009 at 8:19 pm

oh, to finish my thought:

Email to younger generations might seem like a much richer way of communicating than it would be to later generations, because of the language cues that we are have grown attuned to in our hours and hours of net communicating.

ramble.. ramble..

alena October 21, 2009 at 11:28 pm

I love to talk to my godson on the phone or face to face, but when he communicates on face book, he seems like a changed person and I feel totally out of place. That said, I give him lots of credit for keeping in touch in that way.

oleh October 22, 2009 at 12:02 am

It is interesting to me that in this discussion I did not notice anyone who referred to letter writing. the handwritten letter was still prevalent when I went to university. It would take a fair bit of time to write and a few days to deliver. It was something to be treasured when received and even stored. I suspect this will largely disappear.

Milan October 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Letters are increasingly awkward in a world where you talk with people often. If I write a letter to someone based on the current state of a discussion, I either need to actively avoid those topics with them for several days or assume the letter will no longer be current by the time it arrives.

Letters are well suited to formal forms of communication – like letters of resignation. They are less well suited to modern relationships, except perhaps when written during a period where other forms of communication are not being used.

alena October 22, 2009 at 4:41 pm

I exchange Christmas cards with people that I have not seen for more than 25 years or longer, that I will probably never see again, but who were an important part of my childhood. For immigrants and people who have had a multicultural experience, letters are very valuable and cannot be replaced by emails. I realize that this art is dying out. Letters have also played an important role in literature.

Milan October 22, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Letters are perfect for people who you rarely correspond with, since there is actually enough material from the time since you last communicated to fill them out. They also won’t be eclipsed by conversation that occurs in the mean time.

Long emails to old friends with whom you’ve dropped out of touch serve a similar purpose, and can be more feasible given how often young people move these days.

. October 23, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Mozilla tries to build the ultimate in-box: Raindrop

Mozilla’s Thunderbird team has been working on software called Raindrop that aims to unify communications channels such as e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter into a single interface with enough built-in smarts to separate the important messages from the routine.

“E-mail used to house the bulk of the conversations that took place on the internet, but that’s no longer the case today. In today’s world people use a combination of Twitter, IM, Skype, Facebook, Google Docs, e-mail, etc., to communicate. For many of us this means that we have to keep an eye on an ever-growing number of places we might get new messages,” the Raindrop developers said in a blog post about the technology. “We hope to lead and spur the development of extensible applications that help users easily and enjoyably manage their conversations, notifications, and messages across a variety of online services.”

Milan October 23, 2009 at 4:25 pm

I have built something pretty similar to Raindrop, using multiple email accounts, email filters, and other tools.

oleh October 27, 2009 at 2:48 am

Milan , I see that you are on track for having more than 10,000 hits on your blog this month for the first time. You are already over 9,000. Congratulations.

Blogs are another form of communication that I have only recently been introduced to in a big way, mostly through Sindark.

. October 27, 2009 at 10:54 am

Google Voice can now manage your cellphone’s voicemail

You read that headline correctly, Google Voice now works with your existing mobile phone number — no need to choose a new Google number that must be communicated to friends, family, and co-workers. This “lighter” version of Google Voice then lets you hand-over voicemail responsibility (and your data) to Google’s authority where you can listen to (or read via automatic voice to text conversion) your voicemail on a computer (in any order you like), read them as text messages on your phone, and choose personalized greetings by caller. A side-by-side feature table that compares Google Voice when choosing a Google number versus your existing cellphone number can be found after the break. We’ve also dropped in a cutsie video overview of the change — surely a company that produced it can’t be evil, can it?

. October 30, 2009 at 10:21 am

Letter volumes are plummeting around the world, highlighting stark differences among national postal services

. October 30, 2009 at 10:22 am

Previously: Improving voicemail

oleh November 7, 2009 at 2:19 am

My office has decided to send e-Christmas cards instead of traditional Christmas cards this year both for fiscal and environmental reasons and to increase charitable donations in lieu of traditional Christmas cards. As a fan of sending and receiving traditional Christmas cards, I will miss sending them. However, I will send out personal ones.

Tris November 7, 2009 at 9:37 am

While I recognize that traditional Xmas cards use environmental resources, I think it is a mistake to think e-cards can act as a replacement for them. E-cards to me are simply e-junk – no matter what the thought behind them is, the thought can’t shine through the e.

. March 20, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You
By PAMELA PAUL
Published: March 18, 2011

NOBODY calls me anymore — and that’s just fine. With the exception of immediate family members, who mostly phone to discuss medical symptoms and arrange child care, and the Roundabout Theater fund-raising team, which takes a diabolical delight in phoning me every few weeks at precisely the moment I am tucking in my children, people just don’t call.

It’s at the point where when the phone does ring — and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter — my first thought is: “What’s happened? What’s wrong?” My second thought is: “Isn’t it weird to just call like that? Out of the blue? With no e-mailed warning?”

I don’t think it’s just me. Sure, teenagers gave up the phone call eons ago. But I’m a long way away from my teenage years, back when the key rite of passage was getting a phone in your bedroom or (cue Molly Ringwald gasp) a line of your own.

In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.

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