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In Praise of the Audio Message

It’s a voicemail, but better.

A woman holding phone up to speak into it
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Anytime I have something I want to share with a friend, I turn to my phone. But rather than giving them a call or sending a quick text, I like to send a voice memo.

The ability to easily send an audio recording to contacts is undoubtedly one of the best tech inventions in my book. Phone calls are time intensive, and also not as commonly used among my generation (I’m a recent college graduate, and I think I’m the only one of my friends who sporadically calls friends to catch up). And while text messages can be sent in an instant, even in the age of predictive text and autocorrect it can take a lot of energy to type out a whole story to your friends.

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Enter the voice memo, or “audio message.” The feature is simple to use. On iPhones, there is a button to start one right there in the texting interface next to the emoji keyboard (the Android interface requires a couple more clicks). They come across as much less urgent than a phone call— a ringing phone may imply an emergency. Even a text demands a fast response; no one likes to be “left on read.” The expectation with voice memos seems to be that you respond when you have time to listen. It’s sort of like a voicemail, but way better. Who even checks their voice mails these days?

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Voice memos are especially handy if you’re on the go. The person you want to speak to (or at?) may or may not be around to pick up and chat in real time. Texting and walking can be dangerous. And while monologuing into your device (vs tapping away at it) does make you more likely to be perceived—leaving a 5-minute voice memo explaining the Lea Michele/Beanie Feldstein drama while I stood in the middle of Bryant Park definitely got me some weird looks—in my opinion, efficiency is more important than what strangers think.

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Another incredible feature is that the copy and paste function applies to voice memos. That is, you can send the same voice memo to as many people as you want. When I want to update my friends on exciting developments, rather than tell them all individually—or god forbid start a group chat—I just create one voice memo and share it with a select group of friends. An exciting job offer? Who needs LinkedIn, I just send a voice memo explaining the role and how I feel about it. A run-in with a friend from the past? All the juicy details are stored in my voice recordings.

I’m sort of a voice memo pioneer among my friends, though many have followed suit. If there’s a story they want to relay or they want to express their feelings about a certain situation, it’s usually through a voice memo. As for the response to voice memos, it really depends on what the voice memo is about. Sometimes, the recipient will share reactions via text, and then a more in-depth analysis (also via voice memo). Other times there isn’t much to say beyond “lol.”

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I do still call and text, and don’t use voice memos with everyone I talk to—I know my mom, an email person, would hate them. But when I have a story to share or am just abound with emotion, the first place I’ll chronicle it is through a voice memo. After all, as one TikTok user put it, it’s like a little podcast. You (or your friend) just happen to be hosting.

Perhaps the best part about receiving voice memos is the ability to truly hear your friends. It can be hard to always discern the tone of texts. But with voice memos, you get a better sense of the sender’s intentions and emotions. And if it’s been a long time since you truly talked, there’s something nice about feeling like they’re in the same room as you are.

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