In the car the other day, Peter used his cellphone to leave a message for himself on his office voicemail. It’s interesting, in a Nicholson Baker-ish way, that there is already a convention for how to leave such messages. After all, they are pretty new. I think I first started leaving them while I was working on my dissertation, so mid to late 1990s; I left them from payphones, if I happened to be downtown when a revision occurred to me. It felt awkward, mostly because I wasn’t sure how to address myself. Now everyone knows: in a monotone, in the imperative mode, with cryptic succinctness.
On the other hand, why so parsimonious? This isn’t a linguistic context that our ancestors faced in the Pleistocene, so natural selection has had no hand in shaping the etiquette. It isn’t clear to me that it really is more economical to speak in such a stilted, artificial way. It saves effort to write in telegraphese, sure, but writing is more cumbersome than talking, and it takes effort to drain a sentence of all tonal nuance. Is it just fear of being overheard and thought dotty that prompts one to drop the social niceties?