I loathe voicemail with a passion some people reserve for child rapist/murderers. I hate getting it, I hate leaving it, I hate listening to it, I hate the whole thing. I need to steel myself to listen to it, which means I end up engaging in one of two dodges: (1) Pretend it doesn't exist and then listen to several days' worth all at once. Not an effective strategy; important information is missed. Callers are either perplexed or enraged at you. (2) Call the caller back and tell them you see they called but didn't get a chance to listen to their message yet. This has the benefit of being true (if you stretch the definition of "didn't get a chance" to include "are too neurotic") and tells them you'd rather listen to their lovely voice live. The downside of this tactic, of course, is if you get their voicemail, you are in the somewhat absurd spot of telling their VM you haven't listened to their VM.
Text messaging, on the other hand, rules - at least it does until I decide I hate it and another bright shiny object gets my attention. It's text, which I love for lots of reasons, it's instant but time-shiftable, it requires brevity, and it tells you when the person's phone got it. Email is a distant second. If you want me to get your message now and respond in a timely manner, text me. Unfortunately, there are still some people who can't text, so I have to leave the voicemail on - for now.
How did we get into this mess? Once upon a time, computers were not consumer goods, video entertainment required a movie projector, and a phone message was when someone
answered and wrote it down. Then the Rockford Files invented tape answering
machines and people spent the 70s enjoying the novelty of speaking
after the beep. The 70s were full of boring shit that people found
novel, no one knows why.
Deep inside the lower intestines of the CIA during the Reagan years, some lab monkey decided it would be a good idea for everyone to have voicemail, so the Agency could leverage its electronic interception intelligence capacities, or some shit. Basically, they can eavesdrop on everybody's messages by breaking into the computers your voicemail is on, an idea both creepy and clever at the same time. Like good little sheep, Americans obediently adopted voicemail as the way to leave rambling, incoherent, barely audible messages for each other, in lieu of actual work. I am ashamed to admit I participated in the charade. Baaaa.
In the last decade of the 20th century, voicemail grew out of control and mutated into monsters like automated attendant systems, which the CIA has no use for and therefore you're allowed to make fun of, sheep. Cooler, even more surveillable communication forms like email and IM (which go through the government's own computers) were developed at the same time, making voicemail seem quaint. The final insult was the voice-navigated automated attendant, which is lampooned openly on commercial television and requires you to enunciate all your personal information in a clear, loud voice on a crowded commuter train and goes back to the start if you inhale at the wrong moment or call the whole thing a bleeding pustule.
Here's my solution:
First, you should be able to charge people for leaving you a voicemail. The user should be able to modify it for each caller - the more boring and irritating the caller is on VM, the more they must pay. You could exempt some people from the charge, ban some people from leaving VM at all, and limit the length and frequency of messages for each person. You can only collect the cash if you can prove you listened to the whole message, say by pushing a button when prompted. If you liked pain and needed money, you could take yourself off the do-not-call list and allow telemarketers to voicemail spam you. They should love it, given they would know you listened.
Second, automated attendant systems must be shunned. If a company doesn't have a great website that has everything you need already, they go to the wall. Retain automated attendants until poor people all have computer access too, but voice navigation must be optional, live customer service easily available and any menu system with more than 5 choices should be punished with a stint in Gitmo. This is war, people.