Leaving Messages? That's So 20th Century

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Commentator Lori Gottlieb says there's a new phone message she's supposed to be checking — the "Missed Calls" list on her Caller ID. Her friends don't bother to leave voicemail anymore. They just assume she'll scroll through all the numbers stored in her Caller ID.


If you're setting up phone service, there are lots of options to choose from: three-way calling, unlimited long-distance, call waiting, caller ID, voice mail. And the list goes on and on. Commentator Lori Gottlieb recently discovered that, at least among her friends, one feature has uses she never imagined.


Lately a lot of people have been complaining that I'm not returning their calls. `But I didn't get a message,' I'll say. Then they'll get all huffy and say, `Well, didn't you see me on your caller ID?' Ah, caller ID. Nowadays almost everyone's phone service includes the option where a caller's number pops up on the recipient's digital display. And my friends are saying that a number alone counts as a bona fide message.

To me, this kind of non-message message isn't just passive-aggressive; it's ineffective. I don't really have the time or even the sense of paranoia to scroll through all of my missed calls. My friends see it differently. They believe that because we have such busy lives, voice messages are `outdated.' In their view, not only is listening to the outgoing message a `waste of time'--mine lasts a whopping 10 seconds--but they insist that leaving a voice message is redundant. As one friend put it, `All I'd say on a message is call me back. My number on your caller ID display says the same thing.'

Call me old-fashioned, but I like hearing an actual voice. A list of 10 digits seems too impersonal. Besides, how am I supposed to analyze messages left by boyfriends if there's no voice to analyze? I can't play a guy's message for friends anymore and ask, `What do you think he meant by "Talk to you soon"? Does his emphasizing the word "soon" mean I should call him tonight or wait until tomorrow?' Now all I have to work with is his electronic phone number, and you can't get much mileage out of that.

But while leaving messages with caller ID seems impersonal, there's also something paradoxically personal about it. There's an intimacy implied by the shorthand of the digital display, by the fact that I'm supposed to know that my friend Ellen(ph) called simply by recognizing her number. It's the technological equivalent of the `Hi, it's me' message, the kind where you're supposed to know who the `me' is because you recognize that person's voice. Sure, on caller ID sometimes a name pops up, but when it's the number alone and I don't know whose it is, the caller feels insulted.

And the most frustrating part is now that I've started checking my non-message messages, I've noticed that some numbers even have a times two or a times three after them, meaning that the person has called back multiple times, sending me the telepathic message, along with a dollop of guilt, that I haven't returned their calls. Had they just left a voice message times one, I would have called them back right away. At least that's what my 10-second outgoing message says.

BLOCK: Lori Gottlieb is the author of "Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self." She's also a contributor to the new book "The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt."

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