In a city that’s temporarily been put on pause, I’ve found my motion in voice notes. Sometimes chirpy, other times weary and, I fear, too self-indulgent, my messages range from fleeting sonic outbursts to seconds shy of 20 minutes.
I sent my longest one while walking alone along the river bank on Boxing Day. No one thought to mention it would be the most disorientating day of the year for people spending the festive season alone – free as it is from the shackles of food and TV distractions that define Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Introvert or extrovert, the pandemic has sent many of us questioning and re-evaluating who we are, and more specifically, how we wish to communicate. And for the most explosive extroverts among us, the ones formerly ‘out out’ six nights a week, small talk with our neighbours in the park is no replacement.
We’ve all lost energy. Some experts even suggest we may be in a global state of depression. Living like caged hens, it’s no wonder our social faculties feel like they’ve been put through the wringer and come out all mangled.
Voice notes have been my poison since Christmas, since giving up on booze and since I started finding IRL social interactions increasingly challenging. As I blast through my local park (I’m bored of the sight of it) I swipe up on the microphone symbol on WhatsApp (did you know this mean you can record without holding your finger down? Game-changer!) and I begin chatting away.
There’s a cycle of seven or eight people I’ll send voice notes too. I’m lucky I have that many people close enough in my life who’ll listen. In my altered social state, voice noting offers me a feeling of control, counteracting that unnerving sense that I’ve lost my extroverted tendencies, and ability to communicate. I can start when I went, pause when I want, take a breather and send another note shortly after. I can be inspired by nature or the buildings I pass as I go.
And as I walk I’ve found I can get into a stream of consciousness, unloading that day’s thoughts to a caring pal who sends me their braindump in return.
However, my pal Emma, an arts and health programme manager at a London gallery, says she finds no validation in voice noting; that it requires “a certain laidbackness” she does not possess. “I suspect the anti-voice noters are also the people who hated being picked on to speak in class,” she tells me.
“Voice notes feel a bit like public speaking and even though I’m in control of leaving or binning mine, I feel a self-imposed pressure to portray myself well, not to say anything cringe, to remember to address all that was asked and to sound buoyant not drone!” she goes on to explain – not in a voice note.
“You’re not getting someone’s reaction as you go which can feel exposing. If I’m busy or a bit stressed or distracted I find it hard to get into the right headspace. I want that friend to feel I’m not just ticking them off my list of things to get done, but that they’ve got my attention. Like they would do in real life.”
Rather than freeing her up, Emma finds voice notes zap her energy and prefers video. “I don’t personally mind Zoom; the real time interaction of seeing someone else.” For my part though, just seeing the word ‘Zoom’ makes me begin to fret – I’d prefer an old fashioned phone call any time.
It’s an important reminder that we all have our own ways of communicating. And as we ping from one dystopian pandemic day to the next, that we need to allow each another the method that suits us best. “I genuinely really enjoy getting yours,” Emma reassures me of my voice notes. And I enjoy getting hers too – but I won’t expect one anytime soon.