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My 18-year-old sister has a tendency to respond to WhatsApp messages with short answers. “Having a good day?” I’ll ask. “Yep,” she’ll reply. “Excited to see you on Saturday,” I send back. “Same”.
Despite this, every now and then she’ll send a long and descriptive voice note about something that happened at college - full of giggles and funny anecdotes. I feel myself smiling as I listen. I love hearing the sound of her animated voice. We live in different cities so these nuggets of audio are comforting to hear.
Until recently, I always responded with written messages. I liked hearing hers but never felt the need to try it out myself. None of my friends use voice notes and the one time my flatmate did (to explain a long story about the plumber), I couldn’t listen at work so asked her to send a text anyway.
I’d always thought if you want to voice note, why not just call me? But after a week immersing myself in the world of voice notes, I’m 100 per cent converted.
Voice notes, unlike written messages, leave little room for misinterpretation. You can instantly decipher someone’s mood and their tone. You know straight away if that “haha” is sarcastic or meaningful.
Of course the same is also true of phone calls. But (as HuffPost found when we spent a week calling our friends) there is something far more anxiety inducing about committing to a phone call - you have to dedicate a chunk of time, you can’t be distracted, and you have to hope they’re free to talk at the same time.
So it’s no surprise that while Ofcom stats show the number of phone calls we make is declining, millennials are falling in love with the Whatsapp voice note.
Voice notes are on the rise for many reasons, says Anastasia Dedyukhina, author of Homo Distractus and founder of Consciously Digital. “Firstly, it’s a more natural thing for people to do - speak, rather than write,” she says.
“Secondly, it is actually faster, especially for more complicated subjects. Thirdly, it allows us to express more things then just writing, and is more spontaneous.”
“It’s a more natural thing for people to do..."”
Deciding to see what all the fuss was about, I set myself the task of sending voice notes to friends and family for a week. My 18-year-old sister, as you can imagine, got involved straight away when I told her my plan (over voice note) replying with her own, explaining what the cat had been chewing downstairs.
My cousin also got on board. “Oh my God I looooove voice notes,” she said. “Especially if I have something long to say, you know? I love it when people send them back, I don’t have to read I just listen. I wouldn’t say ‘how are you’ with a voice note, but you know when you’ve got a long story, it just works!”
And she’s right, voice notes don’t have to be well articulated - in my experience people ended up sending a stream of consciousness, filled with laughs, pauses and distractions. Sharing particularly funny moments or a testing day at work.
Some friends found my audio clips hilarious, responding “haha” rather than with their own voice clip. But I still found myself enjoying the ease of telling a story without tapping on my screen.
There was one slight hitch. My friend Ed said: “I tell you what is weird, recording a voice note while you’re sat in the office. Also I can’t listen to your note unless I put headphones in or the whole office can hear.”
He was right, there’s a time and a place for a voice note. Despite this, I caught the voice note bug. I got excited when I would see someone was recording a reply. I sent voice notes to people I knew wouldn’t send one back, just for lols.
I giggled to replies I did get as if we were playing some sort of game. And then I got over the laugh of it and started to use it for genuine ease of telling longer stories to my closest friends and family.
So what is it that has us hooked? Maybe it’s because voice notes allow us to reintroduce audio into our conversation. Or maybe it’s the way this method of communication allows us to convey tone, context and sentiment in a way that written messages just can’t.
Perhaps the main draw comes down to it being ridiculously practical: a message might take several minutes to type out but will take half that time using your voice. A little more than a text, but less intense than a phone call. I’m sold.