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Kai Ryssdal: What if I told you Lehman Brothers was a phone call away from being rescued last fall? And what if I told you that a private bailout never happened because Warren Buffett didn't know how to check his voicemail? That would all be true.
Buffet himself said so at a conference out here in California this week.

But even when the fate of the global economy is not on the line, voicemail is a curious beast. First we all hated it because the reason we were calling in the first place was to talk to a real person. And then we all learned to love it because we didn't have to talk to a real person anymore. Then e-mail, and texting and Twitter took over, and now saying anything at all is practically obsolete.

Beth Teitell has more now on the latest effort to rekindle our love affair with what comes after the beep.


BETH TEITELL: Hate's a pretty strong word, but ask people how they feel about those voice messages clogging their inbox, and, well.

JA-NAE DUANE: I hate it. There's no deal. I prefer to either speak with someone in person, get a text, get an e-mail, whichever's quicker, but leaving me a soliloquy, and then me having to rehash that with you on the phone later on, is just not something I'm into.

That's Ja-Nea Duane. She runs her own business, near Boston, and confesses without shame that she waits weeks to retrieve some messages, and automatically deletes many others without so much as a listen. Even those from her mom.

DUANE: She's like, 'Didn't you listen to my message?' and I'll say, 'No. You know I won't.'

Cold-hearted? Perhaps. But not uncommon. A survey commissioned by Sprint found that people younger than 65 responded much faster to a text than a voicemail. In an age of instant communication, voice mail has come to feel almost as archaic as a telegram. It can't be searched, easily forwarded, or surreptitiously checked during a meeting. Then there's this...

VOICEMAIL: Listen one. Send two. Personal options...

It's no wonder were not rushing to the inbox.

SAUL EINBINDER: In a conventional voice mail system, we see that 30 percent of messages can linger for three or more days before being retrieved. About 20 percent of people won't even check their messages once a month.

That's Saul Einbinder. He's a senior vice president at uReach Technologies, a firm that designs voice-messaging systems for Verizon and other phone companies. As you'd expect, he's kind of defensive about voice mail.

EINBINDER: Frankly, I think we're missing a really important part of the story.

That would be what he calls the "rebirth" of voice mail. With hostility toward traditional voice mail growing, a number of companies are starting to offer services often for a fee that give customers more control. That's right. First they make voice mail a nuisance to use, then they charge you to simplify it.

EINBINDER: Some carriers are actually getting revenue from this, and the way they're doing it is by introducing these technologies that provide for instantaneous retrieval.

That means none of those annoying prompts. Then there are services that go even farther. They take the voice itself out of voice mail. James Siminoff is the CEO of PhoneTag. His company transcribes voice mail into text and sends it to your inbox. He says it takes a mere seven seconds to read a message that it takes 79 seconds to hear. That's a nice time savings, but won't people miss the sound of their loved ones' voices?

JAMES SIMINOFF: They're typically not leaving long voice mails about how much they love you. It's actionable information that they want you to act on, and by acting on it, you're making your loved one a lot happier than listening to her voice five to six hours after your son has been waiting at the school for you to pick him up.

And if you need help texting, your son can probably can give you some tips.

In Boston, you've reached Beth Teitell for Marketplace. After the beep, please don't leave a message.

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