In Message Not Received, I rail against e-mail as most people current use—and misuse—it. Among my biggest gripes: It was never designed as a task-management application, although many people use it precisely for that purpose. (I did myself for many years until I saw the light.) And don’t get me started on using it for scheduling appointments. You won’t hear the end of it.
Why do we check e-mail so compulsively at work, up to 20 times per day? In the book, I explore many of the reasons, including cultural expectations, ease of use, and the ubiquity of the tool. I’d argue that the single biggest reason, though, is that we choose to use e-mail as our de facto to-do list. As such, constantly going to our inboxes makes sense. How else are we going to know what we should be doing and the status of key items?
But what if e-mail could be smarter? What if it could alert you?
If you pay nothing, then you are the product.
That’s the promise behind Google’s radical new email app. In a nutshell, it promises to make e-mail more efficient and proactive. As David Pierce writes on The Verge:
It’s looking for a few things: similar types of emails, which it combines into “Bundles” with names like “Updates” and “Travel,” and bits of information that are obviously the important part of the message. I have a Delta receipt that I’ve been meaning to file in my expenses; Inbox immediately grabbed the PDF and featured it in the stream of my inbox. Attachments are no longer buried below the message, they’re one simple tap away. If you have a confirmation number for a flight, you’ll see the flight’s status. If there’s an address in your email, your inbox or search results give you a Maps link without even needing to open the message.
The app is invite-only at this point and I have dutifully signed up for a test run. (Plus, I like giving early impressions of Google’s wares.) I’m happy to give it a go, although I’m very content using Todoist to manage my tasks.
Other preliminary thoughts:
- Should we trust Google with this information? Will with be comfortable with Google effectively telling us what to do and when? Surely Google will use Inbox to serve up even more relevant ads. I can’t fault Larry et. al for trying to make money. After Google is a publicly traded company. But it’s hard to overlook the company’s privacy record.
- What if Gmail goes down? What then? Will we forget what to do? How many of us even know our friends’ and relatives’ phone numbers? I sure don’t.
- Will ads get downright creepy? It doesn’t take a creative imagination to see this breaking bad. What if “adult” ads appear and your significant other looks over your shoulder?
E-mail has to evolve in order to survive. Not too many tools and tchotchkes succeed by remaining constant, and this goes double in an age of unprecedented, rapid technological change.
Use whatever tools you want. Just understand, though, that if you pay nothing, then you are the product.
What say you?