- 26 Feb 20
There was a time when the hmbl text ruled. Empires stood or fell on the basis of wrds stk tgthr na ltl scrn. Indeed many people were convicted of murder because of what they’d said in them. Now, however, they have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Or have they?
Text this to yourself if you’re able: technology is an oxymoronic mistress. Fifteen years ago, mobile phones were smaller than a pack of cards. The smaller the better. Sending a text message was like hitting a golf ball in the dark: you had a sense you knew where it was going, I mean you could feel it in your hands, but couldn’t be sure it ever got there. Fast forward to today, and the size of your phone must reflect that of your ego.
Forget that it can fit in nothing; not your pocket, not your bag; and you need hands the size of Tony Robbins to even work the damn thing. The text message too is in terminal decline. It’s all voice messages now. If you're not sending them, you’re one step from the bus pass. Which, in itself is a cruel twist; just as we taught our elderly mothers to master the medium of scripting and sending a text, it has been consigned to oblivion. Which, again is a flip-flop of political candidate proportions.
Were voicemails not the bane of our lives a decade ago?
They were torture. Pure, unadulterated pain, listening to the automated voice describe in chronic detail the time and numeric source of the message, an elongated preamble you would listen to with one eye closed, wincing, fearing the dispatch was from your boss or an angry ex or a despondent football manager wondering why you weren’t at training the night before.
Often, somewhat inevitably, the message would be nothing but empty, cosmic space. An incoherent cacophonic collection of sounds, maybe from the inside of somebody's pocket. And you would sit there, listening, tensed up like the kid in Jurassic Park, cowering against the counter in the kitchen, holding your breath lest you alert the person responsible for the message you were there, even though they were not, because, you know, they had left it hours ago, as a voice message.
Well, after years of running from them, they are back! And crucially the fear is gone. They are not voicemails anymore either, not as we knew them, they are ‘voice memos’. This is an important, if fanciful distinction. Now, we all walk the streets like Truman Capote, shouting voice memos into our phones, as if dictating to an imaginary secretary called Cathy in the 1950’s office of our minds. It doesn’t matter that the Russians or the Saudis – or even the guards in Termonfeckin – may be listening. Nothing should compromise our convenience. And if there’s one thing voice memos are, it’s convenient.
It’s not nirvana, though. If you are the sender, there is still the anxiety over the thumb-drag thingy, which – if you have early onset carpal tunnel syndrome like I think I have – can be tricky. The short sharp voice memos are great; they capture tone and texture. They leave no doubt as to the senders intent, unlike the traditional text, which can be interpreted a myriad of different ways depending on the mood of the recipient: even a simple “are we still heading out tonight...” could easily be understood as: (a) a cutting critique on your commitment issues; (b) a veiled attempt to extricate oneself from a misjudged promise; or (c) a straight-up question as to whether you are in fact, still going out tonight.
Last will-and-testaments have been torn up and redrafted based upon the jaundiced interpretation of innocent text messages. The short, sharp voice memo is a game-changer in this regard. It removes doubt over mood and motive. It conveys nuance. It’s as close to having a conversation as you are comfortably going to get. Better than a conversation actually, because the sender is usually invested in what they’re saying, and the listener can roll their eyes freely, without fear of getting caught.
DESCENT INTO MADNESS
That’s the short and sharp. Then, of course, for the ramblers amongst us, the pleasure delayers, there are the mini-podcast length diatribes which, if you are prone to receiving them, can only mean you are prone to sending them. These possess an altogether different essence. You get one of these mofos dropping in your inbox, you may as well grab a notebook and pen, crack open a bottle of Stella and put your feet up.
Actually, that’s not true. If you have young kids, you undoubtedly listen to these missives on the shitter. Send them too, in between flushes. These vignettes are the preserve of old friends, perhaps seperated by continents, sent safe in the knowledge that a prompt response is out of the question. It is obsolete and unnecessary. These soliloquies are the sender's chance to sound like Ira Glass for four minutes. They are dispatched under no duress. They have become the letters of the 21st century, and the tongue is the quill.
It is somehow quaint that talking into a phone and recording your voice is hip. As if unscripted random thought – if only on the merits of Jordan Henderson as player of the year, or the upshot of a vagina scented candle – is the poetry of the day.
Fare thee well then, noble text message. You served us well. For some though, your demise could not come quick enough. For all the joy you brought, there was often pain, and in the case of our parents, much confusion.
“HI CONOR NO NEWS HERE THE CAT IS DEAD HOPE ALL WELL LOVE MAM”
Notwithstanding the ALL CAPS and the Joycean aversion to punctuation, my friend Conor has never, ever had a cat. His parents never had a cat. I was with him when he got this text message from his mother, and I can’t lie, there was a moment between us when we both thought this was the work of a woman beginning her initial descent into madness.
That was the power of the text message. A couple of missed-call rallies back and forth later, we had ourselves an answer. The cat in question was not in fact a cat, but ‘The Cat’, the nom du guerre of a local wild-man who had tormented us as kids. Not for nothing, he earned the moniker due to his goalkeeping prowess as a young fella, which drew him favourable comparison to Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonnetti, erstwhile successor to the great Gordon Banks. The Cat passed away. My friend's mother – the Mam – in doing her maternal duty felt the need to share this news. Had she had the use of the voice memo thingy, would there have been less confusion, and far more importantly, less worry as to her mental state? Probably.
For this reason I have gone full circle on the voicemail. When I say full circle I mean 180°, but that’s for another day. If you want to correspond with me, I want to hear your voice, feel your joy, share your pain. No more cold, dead letters on a screen…
It's the age of the voice memo. Embrace it, for the text message, like The Cat, is dead.