Voice Note Etiquette, Explained by Compulsive Voice Note Texters
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In 2019, my then 23-year-old sister started doing something new to annoy me. She started dropping minutes-long voice notes about her day into our running text chat, forcing me to pause the podcast I was playing on my commute or music I had on while at work to hear a story that, ultimately, could have just been a text. At the time, I wrote the behavior off as a Gen Z (or, rather, z-lennial) fad. Then the pandemic hit, and before I knew it all my text message conversations were replaced with disappearing audio snippets.
At first I resisted the voice note lure for no real reason other than I hate change and was dealing with enough already. But eventually, I found myself speaking into my phone on my daily walks, telling my friends some story or another or adding a short vocal interjection in an otherwise regular text conversation.
The phenomenon has since infected enough people to warrant a CNN article, and a number of what I’d call “voice note spokespeople” began showing up on my Twitter timeline to extol the virtues of the feature that they had pioneered in their own respective circles.
slowly voice memo-pilling all of my friends >:}— stasis baby (@HarronWawker) February 10, 2021
Exuberant voice notes friend and enthusiastic text replies friend— 💗💖 safy (@SafyHallanFarah) February 10, 2021
voice notes are the superior way to communicate— Morgan A Baila (@morganbaila) February 4, 2021
If you’re reading this, you’re probably watching the voice note begin to dominate your own text messages—and maybe, like me, you aren’t quite ready to embrace it. So I reached out to three vocal voice noters—32-year-old Brooklyn-based freelance writer Harron Walker, 30-year-old Minneapolis-based freelance writer Safy-Hallan Farah, and 29-year-old Refinery29 supervising editor Morgan Baila—to answer some questions about voice note usage and etiquette.
Why should I start using voice notes?
Harron: Initially, I think I would send a voice memo when I was trying to say something or tell a joke that I knew would only land if the other person could hear the way I said it. Now, I send them as a sort of compromise between calling and texting. I love calling up my friends, an impulse I’ve indulged like crazy during the pandemic, but I understand that they’re busy and can’t drop everything in their life to shoot the shit with me whenever I feel like it. I find voice notes better at conveying what I actually want to tell someone a lot of the time.
Safy: They're an efficient way to communicate and I'm a very exuberant person, so I want to convey tone and emotions in my voice!
Morgan: I first started using voice notes regularly to communicate with friends during quarantine. At the beginning, everyone was pretty down to over-communicate with Zoom or start up a group chat with people that you were used to seeing daily or weekly. And then everyone just got kind of fatigued from that. Like that's kind of asking a lot of people to be on camera after being on camera all day for work. And then texting kind of feels like a lot, too, some days. I don't want to make fully formed thoughts, especially working in media as an editor and a writer, past the work day a lot of the time. But I literally always have something to say!
The beauty of this is that these notes disappear. So it's appealing to me because it's the most effective way to gossip over text message. It's like, Okay, this is going to be good because you voice-noted me.
What’s so bad about texting?
Harron: When I’m texting, especially when I’m on my phone and not using iMessage on my laptop, I feel like I’m truncating every thought as much as possible to get the actual act of texting over and done with. Using two thumbs to communicate sucks, and I simply can’t understand why anyone would prefer that method of expressing themselves over using their literal voice. I also hate aimless texting. An aimless phone call? Could literally do that all day. But texting should be utilitarian, in my opinion. Say what you want to say as quickly as possible, and then stop. If you want to have a conversation with me, then let’s have a conversation!
If my friends sends me a voice note, do I have to respond with one?
Harron: People usually send a voice note back, although I also have some friends who respond by text. That’s fine with me! They talk how they want to talk, and I talk how I want to talk.
Morgan: I don't think that if someone sends you a voice note, you have to respond [with one] or if someone texts you that you have to only text back. I think you can use a voice note in a typical conversation and be the only one.
How do I know what warrants a voice note and what I should just text?
Harron: If I don’t feel like texting anymore, if I’m finding whatever subject matter I’m talking about too complex or nuanced for texting, if I’m thinking through an idea and want to literally think out loud about it, if I’m giving someone a couple minute update on my day or about a recent situation or whatever — this is all voice note territory.
Safy: Lately I've been making an effort to type more responses out because sitting and listening to a voice note can be a bit of a slog, so now I try to do voice notes when people are engaging with me that way, or if someone says my voice notes actually entertain them during their boring work day.
Is the voice note right for everyone?
Safy: There are downsides: they take time to sit through, so if you're antsy and ADHD-brained like me, they can be hard to listen to! I'm so nosy, though, so I listen to them immediately.
Morgan: You can only send a voice note if you are good at telling the story, otherwise it's boring and you should really be thankful that you have typed messages to make yourself and your stories sound more interesting, because we all have those friends that are bad at telling stories. And they're great people, but it's like, “Why don't you just text me? I don't really need to hear you tell it.” The pacing is wrong. The tone is off. Just no, thank you. And I think that I'm pretty good at telling stories. Sorry. I'm not being humble about how good my voice notes are.
Is this a passing fad, or are voice notes here to stay?
Morgan: If I was going out for brunch or drinks, I absolutely would not be playing voice notes from friends in a public place. I think that [after the pandemic] they'll kind of phase out a little and I would maybe start intro-ing them as, “Hey, are you free? I'm about to send you some voice notes” instead of just banging them off [when I’m] assuming that everyone's at home, not doing shit—because [during the pandemic] everyone should be at home, not doing shit.