Just Call (Or Text) Me — Enough With Voice Messages!

Voice messages are unilateral and time-consuming: this is bad communication innovation.

You've got an annoying message
You've got an annoying message
Julian Erbersdobler


Voice messages are like unannounced visits. You know they are. They come out of nowhere and rob you of a time you'd like to spend doing something else rather than holding your phone horizontally to your ear. In addition to WhatsApp and Facebook, the function has also recently become available on Instagram. Does it really have to be that way?

A long, long time ago, there was cave art. The world, at the time, was still fine. Then someone drew a bison. Someone else saw it and added his contribution. At some point, the wall was full of bison and a new cave had to be found. Communication has always had its limits.

Much later came text messages. There too, you had to work hard to condense content. I love you? Way too long! Instead, you'd finish your message with ILY. In Germany, the real pros even used to shorten the slender word und ("and"), reducing it to a mere "u." But that's exactly where the magic of the early SMS lay — you had to think about what you actually wanted to write and then check again to see if it couldn't be even shorter.

Voice messages consume time.

It was a fight for every space, every comma, every point. Sometimes that'd hurt because you had to mutilate your own message. But, in the end, you were proud of what you'd created. An SMS always meant work: 160 characters weren't much, but they were mostly enough. At that time there was no space for nonsense, no smileys with halos and no vomiting unicorns.

There was only the text, letter after letter. If that wasn't enough, you could draw a smiley face using a colon, a hyphen, and a right parenthesis. And only in case of a real emergency (a severe burst of spring fever in winter, for example) did you send two SMS. Thus paying twice the price. But it was worth it, a small investment of sorts.

Instagram rolling out its voice messaging function — Source: Instagram

It's different with voice messages. The sender presses the microphone symbol and starts babbling, telling you about work, their sister's boyfriend, the roommate's dog. And it can take quite some time. And the person on the receiving end has to listen to it all. Ideally with a pen in hand ready to avoid missing out on the important details. Most of the work is done by the receiver, not the sender.

It doesn't matter whether it's a monologue or just two sentences. Voice messages are time-consuming. There is no maximum length. And also no way to interrupt when the sender tells you which novel they will put under their mother-in-law's Christmas tree if they can't find the perfume they'd rather give her instead. How can you answer such a voice message? With a thumbs up? Never! That'd be taken as an invitation for the next recording.

But seriously: Why don't people call each other anymore? You know, like before, when one person would say something and the other could react. Dialogue! Two people, two voices, the old-school classic. If that's too boring for you, you can look for your old Nokia 3310 again. At least the battery lasts up to a week, so you'll have enough time to find the right 160 characters. You can even end it with a smiley.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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