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Voicemail contradiction: We hate leaving messages, but love saving them

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In our text-happy society, a lot of people have stopped leaving voicemails. And when somebody actually does leave us a message, we don’t always listen to it. But we value voicemail more than we think. Many of us have saved the funny ones, the sentimental ones, the voices of loved ones we don’t often see or can no longer hear anywhere else. These are messages we’d be devastated to lose. So why aren’t we interested in creating new ones?

I asked listeners to send me voicemails they have saved and treasured. These are messages that are sentimental to them, but to the average ear, they don’t sound like much.

“This is Grandma. Just wanted to let you know we’ll be there for the party. Talk to you later.”

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That voicemail was saved by Caylee Betts, a native Seattleite who now lives in New York City.

“This message still kind of gives me feelings in my heart and makes me want to cry,” said Betts. “It’s the only voicemail I’ve been able to dig up from my grandma who passed away a couple of years ago.”

Betts saves a lot of voicemails from her husband. Here’s one she sent me:

What’s up ChicaLeekSneakpeakPipsqueak. I just walked outside. Flight went well. There were some kids sitting around me, they were a little loud, but they were fun. I have some really good articles from ‘Harvard Business Review’ I think you’ll like. I can take a picture of them and send to you or I can just bring the magazine home. Anyway, give me a call when you get this. I’ll send you a text. Bye.

Betts says this message is a perfect representation of their relationship.

“It’s really playful and sweet, I can tell he misses me. Then he talks about an article in ‘Harvard Business Review’ that I would like which I think makes us seem so smart and cool,” she laughs. “I don’t know, he’s just in such a great mood and it’s such a nice little summary of who he is.”

But does Betts leave voicemails?

“Ugh. No. I don’t leave any voicemails. It’s horrible.”

Yet, she hoards them.

“I am one voicemail away from a full inbox at all times because I can’t decide which of these to get rid of.”

Voicemail saved

Seattle’s Paige Hamlin has saved a message from her dad since 2012. In it, her dad and his wife are calling to wish her good luck on an upcoming marathon. He calls her “kiddo” and asks her to give him a call for an update on her final time.

“So my dad passed away from dementia and the last year or so he didn’t really sound like himself,” Hamlin said. “So this voicemail is my dad, it’s my vital father. It’s, ‘Hey, kiddo!’ I have a real connection with him when I run because he was a runner. It’s just so amazing to have a memory of him like this. Like, his actual voice. For a moment he’s there and I’m interacting with him.”

Hamlin has also gotten into the habit of hanging up when the outgoing message starts.

“Now, since you’ve brought up the story, it’s so much more important to leave a voicemail,” Hamlin told me. “Thank goodness for voicemail. It keeps my dad around.”

Melissa Cauley sent me a message left by her kids Bella and Coleman more than a decade ago.

“It’ll probably make me cry. It makes me cry 12 years later, it’s ridiculous.”

In the message her then two and five year old children wish her a Happy Valentine’s Day and tell her they love her in their tiny, squeaky voices. They’re now teenagers, 14 and 17 years old.

“Coleman and Bella’s dad and I had just been separated. That was the first Valentine’s Day that we weren’t a family, a typical family. We worked really hard, we made this commitment, even though we weren’t going to be married anymore, that we were never going to keep the kids from having the types of relationships they were supposed to have [with the other parent]. He was really committed when he had the kids, making sure they’d touch base with me because it was really hard at first.”

Jessica Van Campbell sent me a message from her late Grandma Kate. She says she plays it for her baby girl, who her grandmother never got to meet, so she can hear hear great grandma’s voice.

We talked about the demise of the cassette tape and the VCR. So what’s keeping the voicemail from disappearing?

“It’s sad! So much stuff that really mattered to me growing up is already phased out,” Van Campbell said. “It’s sort of like having mixed tapes from boyfriends in middle school. I have every single one of those! So yeah, I would be really sad. I’m very old school.”

Not all sentimental

But not all saved voicemails are sentimental. Listener Grace Montgomery sent me one she saved from her mechanic.

“Looks like we need to put a new serpentine belt on your car. It is derailed. We also need to involve a squirrel body extraction because a squirrel got his head stuck in there and it’s what derailed the belt and…managed to kill it at the same time,” the mechanic is softly laughing as he says these last words. “Sorry, it’s not funny.” He chuckles again before pulling himself together, “Give me a call when you get a chance.”

The voicemail is actually a very unique medium. It can be a performance space, a place to sing improvised songs and do funny accents. Material you wouldn’t text or do live, content that really wouldn’t exist otherwise.

So what do you think? Would you care if voicemail technology went the way of the dinosaurs? Or will this story remind you to leave more messages?

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