Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Talking to a machine! Not yet

I am not using my mobile phone since I returned from North America about four months back. I have been advised by the doctor not to use the cell phone for health reasons.
I, however, did text messages once during the day and also used my voice mail service to revert back to the callers. For the last forty-five days my voicemail is not working. On calling up my mobile service provider in Kolkata, I was told that there was a technical snag that they were trying to rectify. But till today, after numerous phone calls and requests, the situation has not changed.
I was wondering how thousands of mobile users must have been inconvenienced by the disruption of the voicemail services in the city. Oddly, there weren’t any uproar from any quarters. But facts are often stranger than fiction. To my surprise, top informed sources told me that I was one of the 350 to 400 rare species among the million plus mobile subscribers in the city who used voicemails regularly.
Voicemail, as a communication tool, has many advantages. It is of great value for mobile users who are not able to attend all the calls, and especially those who are on the move. But that is where the virtues rest, at least in India and certainly in Kolkata.
I have had the voicemail service on my mobile ever since I got my first connection. However, what has really puzzled me is the fact that though I get numerous missed calls each day, there are hardly any voice messages on my voicemail from local users.
I have found in my voice mails people saying “Emm…” or sometimes all I get to hear are just “Hellos and hellos, followed by background noise before the call is disconnected. There have been instances when people have called my number repeatedly only to be reverted to my voicemail box but they left no voice message whatsoever.
I rarely get messages on my voice mailbox and even have to sift through the blank messages that are mostly snorts, grunts, hellos and the usual traffic and other background noise. Nevertheless I have to go through each of them with a fine-tooth comb hoping something substantial might pop up.
I think this because people either do not know how to use the voicemail service or they don’t believe in the concept of leaving a message and receiving one. I have asked many people why they did not leave a voice message on my voicemail only to be told how they felt “Shy, silly or strange….. talking to a machine.”
I am quizzed by the fact that while the Indian mobile users have no qualms using SMSes, what is it about the voicemail that keeps them away.  While I leave it to the psychologists and the marketing gurus to find out the answer, I have deduced
my own conclusions for the time being.
While voicemail and recorded messages is a part of the American and Western culture, it is certainly not so in India. In fact, almost 99 per cent of the time you are required to leave a message for the caller to elicit a response.
Efforts to evangelise its use by mobile service providers have fallen flat in India. No wonder, most of my voicemails, invariably, are from my foreign friends and acquaintances.
So we in India are yet to adapt to the voicemail culture and can always prefer to send the less intrusive SMS. And then, there is one of the greatest contributions of mobile telephony and a national phenomenon called the `missed call’ - the art of conveying without active communication.
People have evolved an elaborate communication system, something quite like a mobile Morse Code that factors in one ring, two or more rings, who calls and when etc., to convey to the recipient what is intended. Mostly governed by you-foot-the-bill psychology, the `missed call’ phenomenon has its fair share towards ensuring low voicemail service.
India is one of the fastest growing mobile user bases in the world.
But talking to a machine! Not yet.
ess bee

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