My Gmail conversion


I’m moving to Google’s Gmail. It’s been a week now.

The advantages over Outlook are striking:

1) My email is now stored outside my laptop. This protects me against cataclysmic loss…a big benefit because my email file is a good approximation of all the people, projects, and information I need to “keep in mind.” What protects me from loss of email protects me from the first enemy of every complex adaptive system, the moment that dynamism tips into disorder, when one missing piece of information cause plates to begin to spin off their sticks, reducing me to a sweating immigrant on Ed Sullivan’s stage, a grinning, desperate creature who doesn’t control the routine or own the plates. (It was a cruel show, when you think about it, reality programming before its time.)

2) My email, as my map of the matters that matter, is more accessible to me when I am out of the house. I can use any computer with almost any operating system. This too is a big “value add.” When out of the house, I am often especially needful of orientation. My great grandfather needed a compass. I need my email. It contains almost every name, number, date and address I need, not as a tedious database of “contacts” that is ever more voluminous but perpetually incomplete, and always missing the contact I need right now. Unlike “contacts,” my Gmail probably contains the datum that sent me out of the house in the first place.

3) The spam problem has been diminished to next to nothing. How much time have we spent getting rid of spam? How many important messages have got lost in this immense shuffle? I don’t know, but I would dearly like to bill someone for the loss of time and the damage to my mattering map. More than that, spam was a thicket that stood between me and getting on with the day. As a flow of interrupts over the course of the day, spam exacted a small psychic tax on my ability to concentrate and initiate. Now it’s gone.

I was slow to move to Gmail. A friend of This Blog Sits At was kind enough to send me an invitation. But I balked. The idea of “paying” for Gmail by looking at ads did not sit well. Indeed, as I argued here months ago, ads would contradict the signature look, and one of the real benefits, of the Google proposition: exquisite simplicity.

I was wrong about the ads. They line up politely. No shouting. No music. No special effects. Just a tidy cue. Hands politely raised. Expectant looks, but no remonstrations.

Actually, it’s better than that. The ads are being generated by Google on the basis of the content of the email. So when I am corresponding with someone about a research project I am doing on commercial ethnography, I actually get ads from the suppliers of commercial ethnography. Useful!

Actually, it’s better than this. Often the ads have nothing to do with the email at hand. So when I am corresponding with a friend from Montreal, I get ads on pregnancy testing and sail boat equipment.

This is a like the scene in Mars Attacks when, to understand the arriving Martian, the President summons a Professor and his translation machine. For the first few minutes the machines turns Martian speak into the purest poetry. The professor intercedes with a screw driver and before long the Martians are being as discursive and unmistakable as everybody else.

Far from resenting those ads on Gmail, I am now hoping that some will continue to prove evocational and referentially promiscuous. Now, that’s a value ad, er, add.

The transition to Gmail is not quite complete. I am using Microsoft Word to write this post, and every time I used the term Gmail, Microsoft marks it as misspelled. Oh, insult to injury! I am now going to teach my spell checker that Gmail’s a word it must recognize. There.

5 thoughts on “My Gmail conversion

  1. kmsqrd

    Wait until you get to really use the message-threading tool. I’ve been sorting out a trip to Hilton Head between some friends of mine and I for over two weeks, and not having a million messages of the same title in my inbox, I have one thread with 23 messages attached. Too cool.

    While I’m sure you rarely do it, it also makes for great single sentence conversations.

  2. Steve Portigal

    > My email is now stored outside my laptop.

    Interesting that you see this an advantage.

    I spent many years as a Unix user – having an ISP with a shell account was the only way for me to be online, when I had to transition to an email program – “client” – where the email was all downloaded – was traumatic.

    But now I’m hooked.

    People that float along on hotmail and yahoo mail accounts amaze me. I like having my data on my physical machine and in my possession.

    Of course, I can enumerate the tradeoffs between that and having my data on someone’s server in terms of practicality, but at root here is an issue of trust, I think. Yeah, trust of what they’ll DO with your data, but also just a general trust of safety of it.

    Google hasn’t been hacked that we’ve seen, they aren’t ChoicePoint. And they aren’t likely to fold up and go away, like so many other companies.

    Years ago I was an active user of a collaborative filtering site (we’ve talked about collab-filtering here before haven’t we?) – you told it what movies you liked and it gave you others to see. I spent a lot of hours over a few months (I wasn’t billing very much at that point) entering movies I had seen and ranking them. Just having that data in one place was really fun – I could share my top 10 movies of all time with people, it felt like I had amassed a big piece of personal history.

    And then one day it disappeared. And they had been bought by Macromedia and shut down. No one at Macromedia had any idea what I was talking about and didn’t seem interested in sending my data back to me for my own archiving purposes. So I lost it all.

    Recent high-profile example of shifting owners and business models and dumping an enormous number of MP3 files as part of that changeover.

    My data feels safer with me, emotionally. I back up all my email (along with everything else) to a another machine and an external HD once a day. I’ve thought about (but am too cheap or lazy) getting an online backup because what if a fire or burgler strikes our home (I have a home office).

    Just my ramblin’

  3. Steve Portigal

    Here’s an interesting blog entry (it’s a URL)
    It’s the March 11th (I guess in NZ it’s already the 11th) entry – no way to link to individual entries in this guy’s template)
    Describes how he is suffering from novelty fatigue in this blogging innovations – things like Flickr and Firefox extensions and Picasa and (or however the hell you spell it) and tagging that are very overwhelming.

    Bit more “cutting edge” for lack of a better term than some of the tool changes Grant has been describing but I think maybe a relevant point of comparison

  4. Steve Portigal

    Ahh, I found it – you had to click the number of comments to get taken to the link for the actual article (but note that this comment tool here on this blog won’t let me put the h t t p in front because that would perhaps be seen as sp&m

  5. Annette

    I can’t seem to get gmail anywhere but on the gmail site. I have configured the browsers on both my desktop and laptop and named my gmail account as the default. Any thoughts

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