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Marketplace ponders the age-old question: To call... or text?

A Buddhist monk uses an iPhone to record as Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar speaks at American University in Washington, DC, September 20, 2012.

Image of Significant Objects
Author:
Publisher: Fantagraphics (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 256 pages

Hmm, I think I'll let that call go to voicemail.

I'm not getting as much voicemail as I used to, and it's not just me. The Internet phone company Vonage, for instance, crunched some numbers recently for USA Today, and concluded that the number of voice messages on the service has fallen almost 10 percent.

There's gotta be a message in that statistic, and if your guess is that it has to do texting, I'd say u r onto something. Texting is faster. You don't have to wait through an outgoing message, you can skip the verbal niceties and, frankly, you can skip the basics of grammar and syntax. You can text while standing in line at Starbucks, watching Monday Night Football or pretending to be engaged in a staff meeting.

Plus, you avoid that nagging anxiety about whether your voicemail will ever be heard at all -- a feeling that is not misplaced. Vonage says retrieved voicemail has fallen 13 percent. Again, there are rational explanations: for the recipient, text messages are easier to skim and can be read or answered in any order.

OK, time for full disclosure: I'm a texting resister. I can't stand that feeling of being "always available." I even tell people my mobile phone doesn't receive texts, so they'll have to leave voicemail. Some refuse to believe me or are so dismissive of voicemail, they won't leave one. Later, they ask me, "Didn't you get my text?"

I suspect this shift to texting is only partly about efficiency. I mean, voicemail isn't that onerous. I think this is really about a power struggle of sorts. What we all want is the ability to get our own messages across this second -- and to answer others' in our own sweet time. For senders, texting works even if the recipient is right in the middle of --  

Oh! I actually gotta take this. Keep in touch…K?

Rob Walker is co-editor of the book Significant Objects: 100 Remarkable Stories About Unremarkable Things.

Image of Significant Objects
Author:
Publisher: Fantagraphics (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 256 pages

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