Everyone's Too Tired to Text

Welcome to voice-memo summer.

Photo: Getty Images/ Amanda Lauro

Does the home screen of your iPhone give you agita, or is it just me? Between text messages, emails, Slacks, Twitter notifications, Instagram DMs, and Venmos, I'm way past the point of overwhelm; I've completely veered into a sort of numbness. From what all the memes would suggest, we're beyond caring about responding quickly — but that doesn't mean I want to stop catching up with family and friends. I just want to stop doing it in a format that requires constant reading and writing. And I'm not alone.

People are impulsively calling their friends, mumbling half-thoughts vocally into their DMs, and sending voice notes to their colleagues because one more email thread is a no. We've abandoned the era of the text message, and it's not because these new technological advances are just too exciting to ignore. It's because we're tired.

Don't get me wrong: as zapped as we are, there are scenarios where text-based communication still reigns supreme. From iPhone reminders set up through Siri to grocery lists spontaneously jotted down in the Notes app, speech-to-text functionality is (and has remained) a large part of people's lives. As anyone with an Alexa at home can attest, speech recognition software has become almost omnipresent in the past twenty years. With shows like Netflix's The Circle and HBO's Barry, we see examples of how texting (with our hands) has been replaced as the most efficient way to communicate. Even the social media networks have taken note: apps such as Hinge, ClubHouse, Somewhere Good and even Twitter Spaces have all incorporated voice-based communications in the past two years for their users. Our days spent typing out long, winding (and typo-riddled) paragraphs are over.

Between the ongoing twists and turns of the pandemic, the deluge of violence and tragedy on our news feeds, and the cognitive dissonance of having to work throughout it all, our brains are fried. Weddings, block parties, picnic hangs, and happy hours have returned — but our stamina? Not so much. The sheer effort it takes to correspond via texting these days feels like just another chore to add to the list. It almost makes you want to harken back to a time where communication felt spontaneous, healing, and joyful. A time when people made phone calls.

Our collective return to yammering on the phone isn't new, but there seems to be something… different about the way we've ditched texting in 2022. The invention of text messages was initially beneficial: having a quicker mode of communication via shorthand did away with waiting for the other person to be present, but there seems to be a longing for slow these days. Slow fashion, slow food, slow living — we've seen where moving at breakneck speed has gotten us, and it hasn't been good (deforestation, food waste, misinformation ... need I go on). With a phone call, there's no more hand-wringing over what words you'll use to convince your crush you're a "cool girl" who can't be bothered to use capital letters. No more waiting the perfect amount of minutes to respond to show your new friend at work that you're interested, but not desperate. The unscripted flow of a phone call feels natural: a literal train of thought that connects us in a way that feels authentic.

And science proves it. A study conducted last year proved that while technology in general allows for different mediums of socializing and connecting with others, speaking on the phone strengthened connections between people and optimized wellbeing. In fact, the actual sound of a loved one's voice did so much more for the mental health of the people involved, versus sending and receiving text messages.

Beauty editor Kayla Greaves agrees. "I love it," she says. "I grew up in the era of taking over my parents' landline and disconnecting the dial-up internet because I had to talk to my friends on the phone. I like hearing people's voices, their laughs, their expressions. I like real human connection, and I feel like sometimes that really gets lost over text." And let's be real — texting just can't relay the pure drama or cadence of storytelling like phone calls can.

For many younger millennials and Gen-Zers, speaking on the phone still drums up feelings of anxiety. And for those people, we have an equally effective alternative — cue the voice memos.

If you've never lived in an age where using landlines was the norm, waiting for someone to pick up on the other end can feel foreign. As someone who grew up with curated Instagram feeds and read receipts on iMessage, the spontaneity of a seemingly simple phone call can feel like the encapsulation of every insecurity I've ever had. Similar to live phone calls, voice memos allow the sender to double down on tone and emphasis.

Reporter Kathryn Lindsay shares this sentiment: "I still text people constantly, but when I'm talking about something I'm passionate about — usually when I'm upset or excited — I find that my brain thinks faster than I can type. When that happens, I usually bail out mid-sentence and start a voice memo."

Voice memos are the closest thing we have to telling a story or conveying a message in-person, without the inconvenience of having to wait on the recipient's availability (or their bandwidth). It's a text without the typing. It doesn't even require looking at the screen.

Michelle McDevitt, president of entertainment marketing firm Audible Treats, lives for a voice memo for this exact reason. "I sent one this morning about how during my screen recorded consultation with an iPhone specialist, I chose a random month of photos from 2011 to share with them to troubleshoot why I couldn't tag someone and of course, out of all the 115,00 photos I have on my phone, I happened to select a series of post-medical surgery photos of my body by accident," she revealed. "EEK! Of course that would happen and of course, I have to share that story with my friend."

There's just something so temporal about recording a message and sending it immediately to your friend after something incredibly funny or embarrassing happens that relays a "you just had to be there" sentiment — and since you weren't, this voice note is the next best thing. The best part? Your cringe story (or tidbit of gossip) can never be captured in a screenshot for further dissemination. When asked how often she uses voice memos, Lindsay shared that she mostly sent them "to [her] friends when talking shit, because the voice memos disappear."

If you're a frequent voice memo user, you know tea gets spilled…although McDevitt cautions that there is technically a way to save the (messy) messages. "You should be mindful of what you share…I like keeping some good ones I get from friends that I can revisit and relive in the future with them." Juicy!

Have we officially retired our Twitter fingers forever? With all the recent Y2K nostalgia of late, it makes sense that we would yearn for a simpler time. Using as many tools as we do to communicate with our co-workers, it makes sense that we began to associate all the typing (and emailing and Slacking and Gchat-ing) with work — and talking on the phone feels like such a breath of fresh air. All of this craning of the neck and the squinting at the screen cannot be good for us! I am not a doctor but my formal recommendation is to choose joy and send a voice memo instead. Texting as a whole will never go away completely, but I will say ... my wrists are enjoying the break in the meantime.

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