· 4 min read
Who Are You Talking To? : Voice Message Globalization
Written by Angelina Ruiz
I look up at my husband who’s horribly confused, wondering what the hell I’m mumbling into my phone about. “I’m sending a voice message…”
After I hit send, I listen to the other 3 or 4 messages my cousin sent back, laughing at what appears to be myself, but it’s actually her telling me a story through my iPhone speakers, about 1600 miles away. Hearing her voice is a tiny reminder that she’s okay, and that I’m okay too. We both don’t have time for a long Facetime or phone call, but the memos are snippets of our collective lives, and reminders to check in on loved ones. Living in Puerto Rico, it’s common to see people with their phone speakers held up to their ears, smiling or laughing at messages. It’s an easy way to communicate, instead of having your fingers scrunched, making typos, when in reality, talking into your phone is way quicker. And if you speak Puerto Rican Spanish, or any Caribbean Spanish, you’d probably be able to give an entire speech in the time it takes to type a few sentences.
But Caribbean folks aren’t the only ones whose voice memos have their grip on. Based on an article published last year on TechCrunch, WhatsApp has said that people are sending over 7 billion voice memos a day. Yes, you read that right. If you didn’t already know, WhatsApp is a free instant messaging app that allows you to make phone calls, video calls, send text messages and voice messages. One of the biggest advantages of the app is that it is offered for both iPhones and Androids, making communication between the two otherwise usually incompatible devices, compatible. Plus, an instant message is so much faster then traditional SMS, because you’re actually able to communicate in real time, and you aren’t held back by character limits. Add in the option of sending an actual snippet of your voice, which takes mere seconds, and it’s easy to see the appeal.
@dominicanmomm #greenscreenvideo #greenscreen #dominicanmoms🇩🇴 #GetCrackin #dominicana #broma #prank #foryou #DoritosTriangleTryout #xyzbca ♬ original sound - Dominican mom
The WhatsApp statistics in 2022 reported that the countries with the top usage of their app were the United States, Brazil, and…drumroll, please…India, with a whopping 390.1 million monthly active users. It’s safe to say that this app is literally global. More recently, I’ve seen people getting creative and using voice memos as a form of making memes. From sending recordings of themselves to prank their parents (I.e. pretending their house exploded using sound effects), or annoying their significant other (i.e. pretending to tell them something important, but cutting off the recording midway), the hashtag “voicememoprank” currently has 235.5k views on Tiktok.
@thatonebroad He gave up on life by the end. 🤣😂🤣 #tiktok #GiveWithAllYourHeart #fyp #pranktext #voicememo #doit #sorry #textprank #foryou ♬ original sound - Babe Crowder 🌐
The dating app, Hinge, actually allows users to not only answer prompts about themselves with a voice memo on their profile, but send memos to others after matching with them. Naturally, this ensued with dozens of videos on Tiktok of people either getting pranked, pranking others, or posting cringey messages they’ve received while on the app. While the idea of the voice memo is good because it allows people to put a voice to a name, things can get dicey quickly when they start sharing those around and posting them online.
In the vein of using voice memos to communicate while dating, some people say that the voice memo is simply just a more intimate form of communication. There is something a lot more vulnerable when it comes to hearing someone’s voice on the other side, plus you can speak and not worry about your tone being misinterpreted in a text message. In an interview with The Guardian, Silke Paulmann of Essex University’s psychology department spoke in depth about how sending voice memos can help give authority over the conversation:
“In a normal conversation, you might have little control over how often you get your voice heard. The other person could talk on at you for minutes and unless you felt comfortable interrupting, you’d end up just listening. Real conversations are more fluid and prone to changes – if the other person shows no interest in what you’re saying, for example – but voice notes protect you from that.”
And Paulmann brings up great points. These voice messages allow people to be seen more clearly, and express how they feel without the pressure of a phone call, or even a video chat where they would have to worry about their appearance. But what about those who have zero interest in sending, let alone receiving voice messages. In the same article, people stressed that sending voice messages can feel very one sided, while others said that they preferred to hear someone on the other side, even an assuring “mhm” every now and then. In this respect, it is nice to hear people going about their day, hearing their environment around them while you catch up. There’s been times even Facetiming with my parents in The Bronx where I could hear a familiar siren or ice cream truck jingle and get that instant nostalgia that I might have missed if I only heard a tiny snippet of their voice.
Whether you’re someone who sends 20 voice messages to a friend, or prefers a call, it all boils down to our hunger for human connection. In many ways, the pandemic, and by extension, the quarantine, separated us immensely. A lot of us are still coming to terms with lost time from our families and friends, and desperately want to see their faces or hear their voices again. It’s understandable that people are trying all means necessary to regain that closeness that has been lacking in an otherwise mostly online world. To me, voice messages are a step from the URL world, back into the IRL world; we all just want to be seen and heard.
So, let’s make plans. Tell me about one of your favorite movies. Tell me you love me and you miss me – but only in a voice message. Sorry, I’m just not ready to commit to a phone call right now…
Angelina Ruiz is an artist and writer from The Bronx. She is the creator of The Radical Database and This Is Fine newsletter, and is the managing editor of Klang Magazine. She currently lives and works in Puerto Rico.