Gee, Isn't Gmail Swell? Until It Starts Controlling Your Life
October 21, 2008 at 1:00 pm
We were reading The Spin yesterday, as we are wont to do, and we have to agree that Gmail is totally awesome. But we also have to play devil's advocate for a sec and point out that we sometimes find Gmail a tad bit... oppressive. In fact, we're afraid it's taking over our lives. Consider this: for the past year or so, we've had a recurring dream about our Gmail inbox. Nothing much happens, and the whole thing pretty much consists of us either getting or not getting mail, but it is still one goddamn stressful dream! Because the thing about Gmail is that it's always on. You don't have to press reload; it updates itself. You don't have to add people to your buddy list; everyone you e-mail magically appears in your contacts. If you use Gchat (and more and more people do everyday), your contacts can always tell what you're up to--you can be halfway across the world, but if that green light is on, everyone knows that you're sitting in front of a computer, available for chat.
But hey, you protest, isn't Gmail awkwardness just a reflection of the awkwardness that already governs our real lives? Well, yes, but we really do think Gmail is further complicating things. For instance, we have a few friends that we've been meaning to get together with all semester (meet for lunch, share a laugh, that kind of thing), but in the last few months our interactions have been limited to Gchat. So we feel like we see them everyday, since they're right there with a little green or red or orange dot next to their names, but we haven't actually spoken in person in months. Isn't there something weird about that?
It's like, we can all see one another online all the time, and there's no more illusion of being busy--whether you're studying at the library or in class or watching TV, you can be on Gmail at the same time. Even the red dot indicating "busy" doesn't really mean busy anymore--it just means that you think the green available dot looks a little desperate and you want to cultivate the appearance that you have better things to do than instant message people. But you don't--no one does! So Gmail becomes yet another way to passive-aggressively communicate with friends, lovers and frenemies: you can make your status message a smiley face or a frustrated "ugh!," you can change your icon to a picture of your dog if you're feeling sentimental or you can just leave it blank to make it look like you don't care. And everyone will read it and think, "hmm, wonder what that means," but they won't bother to ask.
Man. We miss the halcyon days of two years ago, when Gmail was still so new that we had no idea what the dots in Gchat meant, and we could happily read our mail without feeling like the whole world was watching.