At 10:24 p.m., a message pops up in my Gmail inbox: hey tony it's emily calling i just wanted to talk to you and i also wanted to see if you had alrighty the it's my started lunch because we need to know how many people are coming
No, it's not a straggler that survived the spam filter: it's a voicemail message from my sister, Emily — freshly transcribed and delivered to my Gmail inbox. The "Tony" in question is me, Courtney (the cyber transcriber has particular difficulty with my first name).
I'm a bit confused about what the rest of the message means, till I click on the embedded sound file and learn that Emily wants to know if I've RSVP'd to her sorority's upcoming brunch. A few more clicks and I've responded to Emily with a text message — without fishing my cell out of my purse or dialing a number.
This is courtesy Google Voice, a free calling and voicemail application that Google launched (to a limited group of subscribers) in mid-March. Google Voice operates under the premise that you don't need multiple telephone identities in order to have the convenience of more than one phone. Instead of calling your home phone, work number, cell, or smartphone, people can simply dial your "Google number," which then rings all or some of your phones (up to six).
You determine which callers reach which phones (i.e., if your mom calls, your cell and home phone ring; your boss goes to your BlackBerry; an overly ardent admirer goes straight to voicemail). Google Voice also records, transcribes, e-mails, and archives your voice messages, lets you send texts from the Web, offers free U.S. and cheap long distance calling, and allows you to control how and when you take a call.
I spent a week testing the beta-version of Google Voice to see how well it achieves the revolution of simplicity and efficiency it promises.