Tonawanda News

March 14, 2013

Leave a message at the beep

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I’m baffled.

This isn’t new. And I’m pretty sure that it’s not a feeling that’s going anywhere, either. I’ll probably be baffled at least once every day of my life, and I don’t suppose that’s necessary a bad thing. 

But sometimes you realize that what you consider, well, the right way to do things — the polite way, the proper way, the way you were raised and the way you just accepted things were — is considered by others to be silly, rude and downright wrong.

Like I said. Baffled.

I recently read an article on, something that sprung from another article in the New York Times, about how leaving a voicemail is rude. Really.

The Times’ article author, Nick Bilton, asserted that “many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.” Voicemail, he wrote, is impolite, forcing people to waste their time and actually access said voicemail and listen through “long-winded” messages like “Hi, this is so-and-so ...” Don’t people know they should just text you?

I read the Times article. Then I actually tried to ascertain if this was satire, if Bilton was joking. Apparently, he’s not.

Caity Weaver, who wrote about the original Times article on, didn’t agree with all Bilton’s points, but she did on the voicemail one. She even goes so far as to include “a little guide ... to help you[r parents] decide when it’s appropriate to leave a voicemail message on someone else’s phone.”

It includes such voicemail sins as leaving a message if something is time-sensitve (sic), urgent or if “You’re calling to tell me to call you back.” This last because “A voicemail tells me our information transaction is complete; you’ve delivered your message. A missed call tells me our information transaction is beginning.”

At 30-mumble, probably not old enough to be Weaver’s parent, I stared at the computer screen. And felt old. And a little sad. And actually pretty angry.

And, again, baffled.

One: I don’t text people I don’t know well. It just doesn’t allow for the introductions or explanations necessary in any sort of new communication. Once I know you, I might text you. Probably not. It’s something I reserve for relatively few, and then only for really simple stuff.

(I’m also draconian about using proper grammar and punctuation in texts. Yes, I know. I’m weird.)

Two: If I’ve left you a message, it’s because I have a message for you. Simple as that. Saying you’re not going to listen to it? I find that far, far ruder than anything else cited.

Here’s a brain cramp for Bilton and Weaver: If I see I have a missed call, I don’t return it unless there’s a voicemail. If it’s not important enough for a voicemail, I figure, it’s not important. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to feel that way. So where does that leave your rules?

Three: Plenty of people don’t text. Or they don’t even have — or want — cell phones. Honest. It does not make them worthy of your scorn. (Weaver does acknowledge that in these cases it’s OK to leave a voicemail. How good of her.)

Maybe I am old. Or old-fashioned. I can accept that, actually.

But if you consider it a waste of time to spend seconds out of your life to listen to a message from somebody who supposedly cares for you or, you know, honestly needs to get a message to you, well, I feel sorry for you.

I’m all for technology. And I get that etiquette changes and people adapt. But it’s also in place to help communication and smooth social interactions, and gleefully ignoring efforts by someone who either cares for you or simply needs to speak with you because you can’t be bothered to punch a few buttons should be no one’s idea of polite.

So, if I’m calling you these days, I apologize in advance. Because if I get your voicemail, I’m going to leave a message. I’m not even going to think twice about it. And I hope that you’ll bother listening to my message, and even call me back.

If that’s wrong, I don’t particularly want to be right.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at or 693-1000, ext. 4313.