Do you remember hating email?
I do. I love it now; somewhere along the way, I flipped. It wasn’t the first time; when I first got an email address it was magical, and Gmail changed my life. These days, email feels like one of the parts of my relationship to the internet where I have the most individual control and agency.
Do you remember loving email?
The dominant experience of email today is fractured. When I bring the topic up with friends, people will declare a fierce hatred for it – and think of it primarily as a work thing. I think that’s a clue.
A few years ago, the company I work for now acquired the company I worked for then. The acquiring organization switched thousands of employees from Google’s gsuite to Microsoft Outlook. I liked even my work email, back then – but here’s the secret: I was treating it like I treat my personal email.
I was only reading it when I felt like it. The rest of the time, it was just the sort of base account that everything else is hooked up to, and a centralized search system for when I needed to dig up some old piece of information. It’s sort of an automatic filing cabinet that I can occasionally glance through to see if anyone has taken the trouble to write me a personal letter in. This means: thousands, or tens of thousands, of unread messages.
I didn’t love it, though. I started falling out of love with email when Google made and then destroyed Inbox. I won’t rehash why it was better, or spend too many words on my ever-deepening antipathy towards Google for their value-shredding ways. Suffice it to say, gmail made email better for me, and I loved it – and then it made it worse, and I stopped.
The acquisition happened, I was forced into Outlook, and I basically set fire to my filing cabinet. It was part of my acquisition-grief, maybe. A reference to my earlier career in tech support, where I spent ages carefully walking office workers through getting the files Outlook stored their email in under the 2 GB sanity limit of the tech of the time. Mass deletion. A new me! “I’ll start inbox zero.”
I tried, and then – only then – did I manage to hate email. I didn’t notice right away. But between outlook and trying to actually handle everything that came in – no. No thank you.
I’ve never tried this with my personal email. There’s no need to; gmail still does a decent enough job automatically filtering things such that when someone writes me personally, or I have an order update or an account thing I need to handle, I find and dispatch it trivially.
Newsletters are in, though. They’re Good, Actually. People writing thoughtful and interesting things for one another to read, when and if they want to. And they’re in my email, and I like them there, but I don’t always find them there, because they’re not personally written to me. Gmail thinks they’re “promotions” or “updates” and on some level maybe they are. If they were serious they’d have a “subscriptions” tab, but – well.
Because email is coupled to calendaring, I haven’t managed to move off gmail. Hey seemed maybe-good, but also maybe in this “email as productivity thing” zone inbox zero lurks in, and, calendaring.
I appreciate email for what it is, and I think it’s fundamental enough that people have mostly stopped loving or hating it, especially in a personal context, and just… taking it for granted as a thing that’s there, working, remarkably well, for everyone to fall back on. Is this the way a successful technology should be? Or is this email being in the way of things that would serve us better? I think in the work context especially, the second may be more true.
Points of Articulation
- I’m probably undercounting gmail’s sorting/tab automation in keeping me there because I liked Inbox’s version better
- No, I’m not going to address that.
- I’ve had my gmail address for so long (and from such a specific time) at this point that it’s part of my identity; I think this is generational.
(Since this post is written in the first person, it’s worth noting up front that the author is Jesse Alford.)
This blog has been offline, at least on this address, for the better part of six months. I was going to transition to another stack*, because the way I wrote posts (Editorially) went away, and I didn’t enjoy any of the replacements. I let the domain mapping feature on wordpress.com expire. I transitioned to a better registrar. I exported the archive and learned how to transition it. I needed maybe four hours to figure it all out.
I don’t have four hours right now. I have a lightning talk in four hours, and will be in conference sessions until then. So.
I renewed my domain mapping and pointed my domain here. I figured out I can write in markdown and export to HTML with Mou, so I won’t have to compromise and compose in the wordpress interface, without even version control, like an animal.
I’ve been away from the online community for a couple of – wow, a couple of years now. I have been testing software, and developing software at Pivotal. I have been figuring things out, learning how much I didn’t know, becoming so embarrassed by my ignorance that I could no longer speak. I have been getting ready.
I’m at CAST 2015 right now, and I’m ready to start writing on this stuff a lot more. I’ve improved the quality of my ignorance enough to become articulate again. So I need this thing working, now, so I have a platform to articulate across.
I’ll see if the co-authors this blog originally described – or, indeed, new co-authors – want to join me in this, but for now, it’s just me, Jesse Alford. And, shock! I have things to say.
A prose version of this year’s CAST lightning talk (on the topic of testers pairing productively with programmers on feature-programming work) will be forthcoming, as well as a post around my longer-form session tomorrow.
Points Of Articulation
- I am still going to make the transition to markdown/jekyll on Pivotal Web Services, probably. But I have a workaround for now, and now is when the site needs to be up.
- It is really ironic how much more easily I articulated principles before having to grapple with practice. So clean, so pure! The principles can be articulated with experience, too, it’s just… harder. Abstract systems of belief are much easier to communicate with either no experience, or with enough experience. For a year, I had the wrong amount of experience. I think I might have just enough, now.