Along with writing thoughts in a personal, private, solitary manner, I speak likewise alone (i.e., yes—I talk to myself). I use a voice recorder to capture these sessions of self-conversation as a complementary practice to pen & paper journaling—the convention is not far out of left field. I rarely listen back to the recordings, but knowing that I’m being recorded wrenches higher levels of coherence out of me. I find self-talk helpful for working through whatever I’m stuck on. Most of life is an attempt to not become too fixated on any specific agenda and to place oneself in a continual state of adaptation, moving forward. Ideally we’d all have therapists, or be capable of telling anyone anything at any time without fear of annihilation, but self-guided voice recording is what’s doable for me, and I’m more honest speaking (and writing) alone than in the presence of another person.
I started recording with what I already had available—the Voice Memos app on my iPhone—rather than acquire anything new to begin. Voice Memos is a good app. Start there if you’re interested in voice recorder therapy. It’s free, and you already own it.1 Initiating a recording with Voice Memos is quick, playback is first-rate, and the sound quality is beyond adequate for this purpose. Plus, talking through a phone is second nature for most people. There’s a sense of intimacy speaking this way, with a familiar voice box to held your head. Which is weird. But it is important to feel comfortable enough to divulge the thoughts you’re otherwise not articulating in regular conversation.
That said, I prefer to not interact with my phone when possible (stage right: goofy quasi-Luddite), so after using Voice Memos for two months and liking it (the app, the functionality it provides) but not liking grasping for my phone even more than usual, I bought a dedicated voice recorder.
It’s okay. It’s tiny (only slightly larger than a small pack of gum), so it’s easy to carry around, which is great. If I’m going for a walk or drive, I’m likely to stick it in my pocket or toss it in my bag. The form factor is significant (because if it’s bulky, it’s staying home, and I won’t use it) and the device’s most redeeming factor. Playback is painful without the touch screen which is afforded to Voice Memos, and the sound quality is weak, too. However, I’m willing to put up with those shortcomings. The big problem with this voice recorder is that it’s slow to power on after it’s been off for a while (an hour or more). It takes ~thirteen seconds to start up cold. That’s an eternity. The delay is enough to make me not want to use it. The irony: I want to want to use this thing. It should be more responsive for how narrow a device it is. It doesn’t do all that much, so what it does, it should do well. Developing positive habits is difficult—I’m trying here!—and the start time is fatally preclusive.
What I’ve done to enhance it: I tweaked the factory settings so that the voice recorder never turns off. This doesn’t mean that it’s always recording; instead, it’s put into a pseudo-standby mode—with screen off, software on—after a short period, rather than shut off entirely. None of these specifics matter much; the takeaway is that it should be fast, nearing on effortless, and automatic (like clockwork) to get yourself doing whatever it is you’d like to establish as habit. The voice recorder could be a pen and paper or library book; it’s all the same.
To make this specific voice recorder (the Sony UX560) useable:
- Settings > Common Settings > Sleep Timer > OFF
- Settings > Common Settings > Auto Power Off > OFF
There are other settings you may want to configure, but those are the critical ones. This config allows you at all times to begin recording in ~three seconds, which is a lot faster than intermittently waiting thirteen. The battery lasts for days, but I recommend habitually charging the recorder when not in use, like overnight. (A long charging cable can help.) I also recommend equipping it with a large memory card (I went for 128GB), so space is seldom an issue.
Professional dictation machines (which are what doctors and lawyers use, and are slightly different than generic voice recorders) are likely more appropriate for what I’m trying to achieve; quickly recording and listening to myself. They are also way more expensive. (I figured a $70 voice recorder was worth an initial trial over a $500+ professional device because I was unsure if this habit would last. I foresee diminishing returns beyond my entry-level recorder, which is objectively worse than Voice Memos in several ways, though I prefer having the dedicated device.)
1 I’m presuming that all readers have iPhones. Whatever you have, use it.