Cyber culture: The message after the beep is: your time is up, answerphones
Cutting edge technology is replacing outmoded ways of recording a message, like voicemail and the carrier-pigeon
Rhodri Marsden is the Technology Columnist for The Independent; he has also written about crumpets, Captain Beefheart, rude place names and string. He's also a musician who plays in the band Scritti Politti, and won the under-10 piano category at the 1980 Watford Music Festival by playing a piece called "Silver Trumpets" with verve and aplomb.
Wednesday 13 March 2013
Twenty years ago, receiving an answerphone message used to be such a treat. Cutting-edge cassette-based technology helped us feel more connected; the flashing red light reassured us that we were wanted.
But these days, social technologies have left us so swamped with information that we welcome the opportunity to miss out on some, and the allure of the answerphone – which at some point transformed magically into something called voicemail – is suffering as a result.
I consider myself to be pretty needy and even I don't bother checking anymore; I just see who called, and either call them back, or not. Data released last year from Vonage backs this up: the number of retrieved voice messages fell 14 per cent year on year – and, frankly, who can blame us? Who has the patience to listen to an automated voice laboriously reciting that horribly familiar script: "You have… two… new messages. First message sent… today… at… 4.33pm?"
SMS is quick, has no greetings, no sign off, no pleasantries and it's ushering voicemail the way of the scroll-toting messenger boy. No surprise, then that voicemail-to-SMS services have stepped in to relieve our oh-so-modern burden. A company called Spinvox once offered a supposedly automated "solution" – although it was later revealed that it was paying peanuts to call centre workers in South Africa and the Philippines to manually transcribe every voicemail. But computer voice recognition has been improving in leaps and bounds of late, so surely a voicemail to SMS option must now exist for my smartphone?
Cursory research revealed an in-app feature by HulloMail which auto-transcribes the first 10 seconds of my voicemails for 69p a month; they've called it GTG or "get the gist", thus cleverly setting my expectations of accuracy pretty low. I left myself a test message; it was instantly delivered in text form without me having to listen to myself speaking – joy! – but it transcribed Rhodri as "rod-free".
Which, to quote Roy Walker, is good, but it's not right.
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