DICTA. March 2022

Page 29

M I T C H E L L’ S M A L A R K E Y By: T. Mitchell Panter

Lewis Thomason, P.C.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, GEORGE ISN’T AT HOME My office is flanked between two fantastic lawyers of a different vintage. The walls that separate our offices are thin, so I hear essentially all of their phone conversations, which are often comical, sometimes frightening, but mostly routine. So, in all, I don’t mind the telephone traffic too much. What I don’t love, though, is their excessive use of voicemail. It’s not their fault. It’s generational. And to be clear, there’s nothing particularly offensive about the voicemails themselves. None are particularly insightful or substantive, and they’re usually of this variety: “Hello _____. This is ______. It’s ____ o’clock on _____, and I’m calling to discuss the _______ case. When you get a chance, please give me a call at _______. Take care.” It’s the meaninglessness of these voicemails that proves my essential thesis—i.e., that voicemails are generally stupid and a massive waste of time. Minus the case description, there’s nothing in a normal voicemail that you can’t get from looking at caller I.D., and it’s always fair to assume that if a person calls you and you miss their call, they’d like a return call when you’re available. Telling me who you are, that you want me to call you back, and giving me a number to call is stupid. This problem could easily be solved by giving more detail in the voicemail, right? As Lee Corso tells us, “Not so fast, my friend.” The only thing worse than a standard voicemail is a long and rambling one. (We’ve all hit * to record over an awkward message or received voicemails where the sender didn’t know that * was an option.) This brings me to my larger “point,” which I use loosely: Al Gore gave us email. Why not use it? Email is the modern-day carrier pigeon. It’s unintrusive, efficient, and easy to manage. Plus, unless you’re creepy to begin with (which is an issue I’ll save for another day), email spares everyone from the embarrassment of leaving or receiving a rambling or awkward voicemail (including those of the butt-dial variety). Even better, an email recipient—unlike in the case of voicemail—can respond quickly, substantively, and seamlessly (there’s literally nothing worse the competing string of “tag-you’re-it” voicemails). Despite those newfangled “case machines,” which is a term for “computer” that a senior lawyer I once worked for used, and the ease of email, people continue to leave voicemails like it’s 2002. In theory, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, and I should just move on. That’s not my style. Plus, don’t underestimate the pain voicemails cause me. Like stepping on a scale, nothing good comes from listening to them. When the little red light on my office phone starts blinking, I break into a cold sweating and begin to pace excessively. To keep from totally losing it, I typically delete voicemails almost reflexively and without listening. (Don’t worry, I return my calls.) You would think my anxiety has some rational limits. Sadly, it does not. My anxiety is the same if it’s a voicemail from the BPR or my drycleaner. In writing this exposé, I was comforted to learn that I’m not alone. March 2022

Apparently, my entire generation (I’m a millennial) despises voicemail. According to a New York Times article on the topic, “Even millennials who came of age before cellphones were ubiquitous regard voicemail as a source of performance anxiety.”1 That same article—which recounts Jon Favreau’s scene from Swingers” in which he leaves a series of uncomfortable, self-sabotaging messages on the answering machine of a woman whose courtship he was seeking—makes a pretty compelling case for why millennials aren’t wrong in their disdain for voicemails:2 In sum: “A missed-call notification on a cellphone can be its own request for a call back. A “Call me” text will likely be read more quickly than a voice mail message will be heard, and if the matter is urgent, multiple missed calls may declare that most vociferously.”3 I can’t fully sympathize with the youngest of millennials or Gen Zers, who grew up texting and had, as the Times called it, “unmediated cellphone access to their friends.”4 To this day, my childhood home is in an area with no cell service, and I sent my first text message as a senior in high school. At the risk of sounding like your grandmother who recounts the days when “frankfurters only cost a nickel,”5 my first soiree into text land was tricky because each message was billed on an individualized basis. Flush with cash from my lucrative job as the evening stock boy at the McMinnville Kroger (the happiest I’ve ever been, occupationally, by the way), I convinced my parents to add a text plan to our family cell phone package. I obviously don’t remember the exact cost, but it was somewhere south of $10 a month and came with up to 500 text messages (sent and received). At first, that threshold was reasonable. With time, though, texting became more wide-spread, and I quickly began exceeding my allotment. At times, the charges were so great that they mimicked long-distance calls with no MCI discount. My parents were, needless to say, pretty unhappy, and in the greatest injustice that had ever befallen upon me (at least at the time), I lost text privileges for several months. They were Ursula and I was Ariel. I had no voice and a heap of emotions (mostly angst). Still, I refused then to devolve to the draconian ways of voicemails, and for the most part, I’ve kept that course through today. Sadly, my colleagues refuse to jump on the bandwagon. One day, though, millennials will rule the world, and when we ascend the throne, we’re coming for you voicemail. Like home ownership, American cheese, retirement accounts, and canned tuna, you will be our next casualty.

1

2 3 4 5

DICTA

Teddy Wayne, At the Tone, Leave a What?, N.Y. TIMES, (June 13, 2014), https:// www.nytimes.com/2014/06/15/fashion/millennials-shy-away-from-voice-mail.html (last accessed Feb. 10, 2022). Id. Id. Id. That’s a Big Daddy reference for those of you who aren’t familiar with Adam Sandler’s finer work.

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Articles inside

Pro Bono Project

5min
page 30

Bench & Bar in the News

3min
page 28

Mitchell’s Malarkey

5min
page 29

New Members/Change of Addresses

1min
page 26

Your Monthly Constitutional

5min
page 27

Barrister Bites

4min
page 25

Of Local Lore & Lawyers

3min
page 24

Grammar Grinch

5min
page 23

Schooled in Ethics

5min
page 19

Better

6min
pages 21-22

Legally Weird

3min
page 18

Barrister Bullets

2min
page 20

Title IX: Celebrating 50 Years in the Changing Landscape of Education

9min
pages 16-17

Legal Update

7min
pages 14-15

Judicial News

4min
page 13

Management Counsel

7min
pages 8-9

Lessons Learned: Reflections from a Retiring Lawyer

2min
page 12

What I Learned About Inclusion and Why It Matters

3min
page 6

President’s Message

4min
page 5

Practice Tips

4min
page 7

Hello My Name Is

3min
page 11

Section Notices/Event Calendar

4min
page 4

Well Read

5min
page 10
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