A voice-note to self | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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A voice-note to self

May 24, 2024 05:38 PM IST

WhatsApp users send about 140 billion messages every day, of which seven billion are now voice notes

Mumbai: I noticed a curious phenomenon at home. My younger daughter, who accesses my wife’s phone to communicate with her friends every evening, uses WhatsApp and leaves voice notes for them. The replies are voice notes as well. They communicate asynchronously at times and in real-time at others. When probed on why not simply call each other or chat in real-time, she commented cryptically: “We’re different, Dad!”

India has over 535.8 million WhatsApp users (Representative Photo)
India has over 535.8 million WhatsApp users (Representative Photo)

What really could be the difference? And how different could this be from voice messages people of my generation used to leave once upon a time on answering machines or cell phone inboxes?

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India is a fascinating case study. With over 535.8 million WhatsApp users right now the app is deeply integrated into daily life. The volume of communication is staggering globally. WhatsApp users send about 140 billion messages every day, of which seven billion are now voice notes. All projections have it these numbers will go only one way— up.

After looking at the data and a few more conversations with my daughter’s cohort, the insight that emerged was this: This generation treats voice notes in much the same way as the older generation treats chat. Unlike the voice messages that were reserved for urgent occasions when a person was unavailable and was usually formal, structured and intentional, Gen Z likes voice notes because they are simple and allow for richer communication.

Voice notes, they feel, add a layer of authenticity and emotional nuance that text messages lack. The human voice conveys tone, emotion, and personality, fostering a sense of presence and connection that is often missing in text-based communication. In a world where digital interactions can feel impersonal, voice notes offer a touch of humanity.

Second, voice notes align perfectly with the fast-paced, multitasking nature of modern life. They allow users to communicate hands-free while engaging in other activities, whether commuting, cooking, or working out. This flexibility makes them a practical choice for many, particularly in a country like India, where the pace of life is rapid, and multitasking is the norm.

And finally, from a cultural perspective, voice notes reflect a shift towards more immediate and informal communication. The barriers to leaving a voice note are low, encouraging spontaneous and frequent interactions. This trend is particularly pronounced among younger users who prefer the immediacy and expressiveness of voice notes over traditional calls or texts.

However, don’t forget that Indians are among the most price-conscious anywhere in the world. What most people don’t know is that voice notes are more data-efficient than video messages. However, it still consumes more data than text messages. For instance, a one-minute voice note can consume approximately 300 KB to 1 MB of data, depending on the quality and compression used by the app.

In India, where the average mobile data usage per user per month was close to 15 GB in 2023​, telecom companies do a constant balancing act between staying connected and managing data limits. If it goes beyond a threshold, customers must shell out more. Telecom companies are aware of this and have worked hard to keep prices low.

Not just that, India’s smartphone penetration is growing at the fastest clip globally. Upasana Joshi of the research firm IDC [International Data Corporation] says that during the last quarter alone most brands had new launches across multiple price points. And, “e-tailers organized several sales events and offered discounts on models nearing their end-of-life (EOL), resulting in increased demand and lean inventory.” It is perhaps inevitable then that more people will start using voice notes.

But the larger point is, that these notes are more than just a technological trend; it is a reflection of our evolving communication preferences and a response to the inherent human need for connection and authenticity. In a digitally saturated world, voice notes offer a bridge to more personal and expressive interactions, reminding us that even in the age of text, the human voice remains a powerful tool to connect.

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