Voice Notes: How Long Is Too Long?

It has become a common scene. Your phone dings, but instead of a text, it’s a forewarning that someone has orated just for you a private podcast of any imaginable length, the subject unknown until you press play. It could be a juicy morsel of gossip, a yarn replete with twists and turns, or a totally mundane account from someone who simply didn’t have their hands free to type it out.

It’s a voice note — somehow one of the most divisive forms of modern communication.

More intimate than a text and less urgent than a call, the audio messages don’t set a maximum time limit, unlike other voice messaging services, which eventually cut the sender off. That means senders can hit record and embark on an uninhibited verbal journey, leaving recipients at their mercy.

“If I have to listen to one longer than a minute, I get distracted and stop taking it in,” said Iris Meines, a 29-year-old policy officer at the Dutch consulate in New York. “If it’s under a minute, I’m like, OK, I can do this. Six or seven is just terrible. I don’t even know if I could listen to seven minutes straight of a friend talking on the phone.”

She said she usually takes notes as the recording plays, so she doesn’t forget what points to respond to. (Apple added a transcription feature for audio messages with an update to its operating system in the fall.)

“My friends know I don’t like them,” Ms. Meines said. “I ask them, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’” She finds it particularly grating if she can hear people chewing as they record.

For Ms. Meines, voice notes are mildly irksome — she would prefer talking on the phone or texting if she can’t see her friends face to face, she said. But for others, they appear to border on, if not a moral problem, then at least a question of etiquette. Writing in The Atlantic, Jacob Sweet recently argued that audio messages were “indulgent” and could “encourage selfishness.” A headline in The Spectator described their ubiquity as a “tyranny.”

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