This post is part of my 30 blogs in 30 days series. More details here.
Audio is a ‘hot’ medium. Text-messages are a ‘cool’ medium. Voice Notes( or voice messages) have no place in text messaging conversation. This high-brow media theory is not why voice-notes annoy me, but it provides an explanation.
Media and Messages
Marshall Macluhan, the most influential media theorist of the 20th Century, coined the phrase The Medium is The Message. The Message is morphed by the Medium used. So the content of the communication is less important than how you communicate it. Macluhan categorized media into Hot and Cold media. Cold Media are low-definition, where humans have to fill in the gaps. Hot media are high-definition, information dense. In terms of Social and Communication Media that are trendy of this writing, this scale can illustrated this way:
Coldest to Hottest
Audio: The hottest medium
Macluhan referred to radio as
a hot medium because it sharply and intensely provides great amounts of high-definition auditory information that leaves little or nothing to be filled in by the audience
Since then the realm of audio has been expanded to streaming music, podcasts, widespread audiobooks, and YouTube, which can 90% be experienced without looking at it(Google knows this, which is why you have to pay for the privilege on mobile). Another realm audio has expanded into is personal messaging. All three of the top 3 messaging apps in the world; Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger, and Apple’s iMessage, offer easy access to send voice notes. The introduction of this hot medium into an ice cold medium of text messaging has upended the whole dynamic of text communication.
The Wrong Message
While it has been a while since the days of SMS and character-constraints, the format of text messaging and IM has always been low-resolution and more symbolic. Long before emojis became common place, people in chat rooms and SMS chains were sending smileys like :-). Even after images and videos were introduced they were like old, low-definition TV. Texting was cold. You were supposed to fill in the gaps in the LOL’s, and the TTYL’s, and the AFK’s. Like most cold media, it was inclusionary. The messenger and the receiver were both involved.
Voice-notes on the other hand are, red hot. It excludes the receiver. The receiver may as well not exist. But like most hot media, voice notes are also taxing on the messenger. Most people are not ‘fit’ to be movie stars, or authors or audio narrator. The high-fidelity nature of these media creates certain standards for presentation. Most people however, treat voice messages like text messages in audio form. This creates discord in the otherwise harmonious text-messaging format. Voice-notes are the wrong medium for these messages. This becomes woefully apparent in group chats where multiple people ‘heat up’ the conversations by sending concurrent voice-messages. This creates a physical discord. It is the digital version of people talking over each other.
Hence, my annoyance at voice-notes, and why you should avoid them at all costs. Unless safety is involved. Like driving. But you shouldn’t be texting while driving.
- Alex Danco wrote a brilliant piece on the Audio Revolution last year.
- The Danco post was just a distillation of this Marshall Macluhan Interview.