I’m still amazed at people who have the same old outgoing messages on their voicemail:
Hi, this is Mike. I can’t take your call right now, but if you’ll leave your name, number, and the time and date you called, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
We have long passed the time when anyone who makes a phone call needs instructions on how to leave a message or what the content should be. In the smartphone era, although you might not know my name if I’m not in your contacts, you certainly don’t need me to tell you my number or when I called, because it’s saved right there in your phone app.
I have my iPhone set to silence all calls from unknown numbers because I got tired of bots and spam calls disturbing my day. If it turns out to be someone I need to speak with, they leave me a voicemail. But the overwhelming majority of them end up on my Missed Calls list, which I then click on to block those incoming numbers. It’s far from a perfect system, as there are so many phishing companies spoofing local phone numbers (even from the same three-digit exchange as my number), but I still block and delete them. Sometimes automated spam calls do leave me messages, which always sound like some recorded bullshit from unsavory operations that want to get my information and do bad things with it. They get blocked and purged, too.
There was a time in the answering machine era when you could go to Radio Shack and buy outgoing message cassettes containing supposedly humorous songs to plug into your machine at home. Each lasted about 30 seconds, back-timed to end with the beep. There were also some impressionists you never heard of who offered to record your outgoing message in the voice of someone famous, complete with a quickly-spoken disclaimer at the end that this was not the actual famous person. As if we were ever going to believe that Jack Nicholson did you a favor.
I knew a couple of people who were real-life friends with honest-to-goodness celebrities and got them to record custom messages for them. The problem with all of those non-traditional outgoing bits was that they got old very quickly. Sure, for a few days after someone put them on their machine, lots of people — including strangers — would call just to hear it, then hang up or say something obnoxious. But for friends I called regularly, if they didn’t pick up, the not-actually-funny message always made me roll my eyes. Or I’d just bail out and try again later.
Now, I rarely leave messages for friends because I usually text them first (“Got a few minutes to talk?”), and most of them do the same with me. I don’t mind if they call me out of the blue, but if I don’t pick up, at least they’re not subjected to a litany of instructions. All they hear is, “Hi, it’s Paul Harris. You’ve got my voicemail. You go first.” Boom, five seconds, gets the job done without wasting anyone’s time.
But I don’t claim to have the greatest outgoing message of all time. That honor belonged to John Ogle, with whom I worked for several years on the morning show at WCXR/Washington three decades ago. If I called John and he wasn’t in, I’d hear exactly four words: “You’ve reached a machine.”