Voicemail changed our lives. But has anybody ever liked it? That wretched PIN number you keep forgetting. That idiot who leaves you a long, rambling message meant for someone else. The one who set an “on vacation” greeting two years ago and never changed it back. The people who record messages while standing in crowded airport lounges chewing cereal bars. The ones who never answer their phones and never pick up voicemails either.
No wonder 65% of JP Morgan employees have just volunteered to ditch voicemail. Good riddance to an old, unlamented, and—at least at JPM, which was paying $10 per person per month—shockingly expensive means of communication.
But seeing voicemail as a technology whose time is past is also too simplistic. Rather, its demise is a reminder that we use what’s most convenient under the circumstances—and that those circumstances are, well, circumstantial.
One colleague who worked in China in the 2000s recalls discovering that nobody used voicemail, because by the time it got to a lot of Chinese offices, text and email had already superseded it. On the other hand, the same colleague notes, voice memos are hugely popular on Chinese messaging apps like WeChat, because typing Chinese characters is such a pain. (Emoji and stickers became big in North Asia for the same reason.)
Now, as speech recognition on smartphones gets better, I still mostly type text messages in English. But in Russian, where I don’t know the keyboard so well, I dictate because it’s faster. If I spoke Chinese, where the multitude of tones and accents can confuse speech recognition, I might still be using voice memos. And if we one day give up screens for aural interfaces, voice may one day again reign supreme.—Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Polyester is back. It’s a lot less nasty and shiny than it used to be. More surprisingly, it’s no worse for the planet than cotton. Marc Bain looks at why the fashion industry is embracing the plastic fabric in unprecedented quantities.
Let’s stop being such boobs about nipples. From Facebook censoring pictures of breastfeeding women to Fox News fuzzing up the chests of Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger, America seems to be on a binge of mammary prudery. Jenni Avins appeals for a bit of common sense.
Don’t let Google tell you what design is. A new promo video on Google’s ”Material Design” philosophy might seem like clever marketing at best and harmless fun at worst. Anne Quito, however, argues that it badly misrepresents the history of design and makes not only Google’s designers, but the entire profession, look stupid.
Welcome to the world of dumb phones. You might think there’ll be nothing but sleek mini-supercomputers in people’s pockets a few years from now. But as Leo Mirani explains, the market for simple, cheap mobiles is robust as ever, for a bunch of different reasons, in both poor and rich countries.
The digital death of Icelandic. Here’s the drawback of being a small, friendly, stable, tech-savvy, polyglot, open country, writes Jake Flanagin: Technology could kill your native language. Icelanders are near the top of the list of peoples who could end up abandoning their mother tongues because practically everything they use comes in English.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
The problem with racist cops. Yes, most American cops are not bad cops. But those who are influence the behavior of most of the cops around them. That’s the view of a black ex-cop, Reddit Hudson, who argues in Vox that what the US needs to fight its institutionalized racism in policing is a way to hold officers accountable for abuse.
The debunking of a social-science fraud. It was an influential study on how political canvassers could influence people by talking about their personal experiences (in this case, of being gay). And it was entirely faked. In New York magazine, Jesse Singal’s tale about a graduate student’s two-year-long quest to uncover the fraud is both a primer for would-be whistleblowers, and a warning about how easily false research can gain massive public traction.
The Red Cross in Haiti. The American Red Cross raised half a billion dollars to help the 2010 Haiti earthquake’s victims. NPR and ProPublica allege that impact estimates were inflated, and money was misspent and not properly accounted for. The Red Cross’s response is a good lesson in how not to respond.
The executive pay ratchet racket. When companies disclose senior officers’ pay, they list other supposedly similar companies whose salaries act as benchmarks. But “similar” is often a matter of pure convenience, according to Anders Meilin and Scott Diamond at Bloomberg. They’ve used data to document how companies pick larger peers to justify enormous pay increases, driving compensation packages ever upward.
Russia’s industrial trolling. Internet trolls aren’t just bored and lonely sad sacks. Increasingly, they’re organized, and driven by geopolitical agendas. At the New York Times magazine, Adrian Chen investigates a Russian-government-connected company, the Internet Research Agency, which uses a swarm of fake accounts to propagate hoaxes, toxicity, and disinformation at home and abroad.
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