Roughly 1.2 billion people use Gmail, and now, those roughly 1.2 billion people have been plunged into a Charles Entertainment Cheese-esque digital vortex.
Our Google overlords have decreed a complete facelift for one of their most essential products, transforming their once clinical but serviceable email software into a pillowy, mattress-coloured toy.
Sometime in the last three weeks or so, U of A students, staff, and faculty will have seen a notification pop up in the bottom-right corner of their Gmail screens: switch to the new Gmail, or wait for two weeks. Even if you’ve chosen to wait, there’s no avoiding the inevitable. Google intends to phase out the old Gmail entirely and make us all converts to their new email world order.
I’ve never enjoyed answering emails, and I doubt anyone ever has. Writing out a couple sentences of niceties, modulating one’s tone for maximum cordiality: these are emasculating, soul-crushing activities. The old Gmail, with its harsh, angular rectangles and hair-thin text, only underscored this alienation.
Yet this, if anything, was precisely its redeeming virtue. The old Gmail never pretended clearing emails was any better than clearing mouse droppings from your basement rental or hair from your shower drain. Gmail’s aesthetic bankruptcy reminded those brave souls trudging through the filth of student digest emails that this task was a nasty, brutish ordeal, but that after braving the Tetris-shaped nightmare of email hour, they could close their laptop with satisfaction (or move on to their deficit of readings). Moreover, the old Gmail’s harsh visuals kept us on par with our parents, the ones who use Outlook. All email software looked bad, so together, we could all feel bad.
But the new Gmail tries to trick you. The old Gmail was downtown Manhattan; the new Gmail is Disneyland. The old Gmail was the Ice District at midnight on a Saturday; the new Gmail is Old Strathcona at midnight on a Saturday. Google wants to pretend that clearing emails is less like clearing your dog’s vomit, and more like clearing snow — it’s a chore, but it can be refreshing once you get in the rhythm of it.
But this is a lie. Emails are not fun; they never will be. And no one — least of all a corporation with a near-monopoly on digital culture — should try to convince us otherwise. Rather, answering emails is one of the many banal evils of the contemporary workplace. The sway Google, the Zucc, Microsoft, and other tech conglomerates have in our lives is pervasive and pernicious enough as it is. We shouldn’t let them cushion it with rounded corners and soothing beige.