After months of trying not to try the exciting new version of Gmail, the exciting new version of Gmail tried me.
I hadn’t realised it had happened until I opened my laptop and didn’t recognise my own inbox. With the horror that creeps up in me like acid reflux to greet all technological advances, I realised that forces unknown had shut down my laptop in the night and upgraded me to the new Gmail while I was asleep.
‘Dear God, no!’ I screamed, as I tapped away furiously trying to change my email back to the format I could understand. But the option in settings for ‘Go back to classic Gmail’ had disappeared.
‘No! Please no! Please! Christ, no!’ I wailed like Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man as the pagans are lighting the fire beneath him and the sacrificial chickens.
Turns out you can only resist new versions for so long by clicking the opt-out button.
They won’t let you resist for ever. I don’t know who They is exactly, but it’s not the whizz kids in Silicon Valley getting their millennial kicks out of tormenting the over-45s with new versions of things succeeding new versions of things succeeding new versions of things. Faster than the speed of menopause these new versions of things succeed themselves. Faster than the speed of deteriorating eyesight, faster even than the expansion of bunions.
So who is They? ‘They’ is the people the whizz kids work for. I have thought long and hard about this and the only motive I can think of for all this new stuff is to make our attention spans so short that we are sitting ducks for whatever is coming, ultimately.
The fact that your own computer can be shut down in the night, remotely, and that something you didn’t want can be downloaded on to it by a faceless entity is proof enough of something really scary.
If you don’t believe me, consider this: the worst thing about the new Gmail is a series of boxes that pop up unbidden and which appear to be in no way controllable by you or me, the ironically entitled user.
The main box is very big and when it first pops up it asks you if you want the other boxes to pop up. These boxes are not called boxes by Them, they are called ‘alerts’. This word alerts is used throughout the internet and is designed to show that all this is essential. One is alerted to things one needs to be alerted to.
However, if you have Facebook alerts switched on — and you will unless you have mined deep into your settings to find the underground online caves where Facebook hides the option to turn its alerts off — then you will be getting alerts popping up on your screen telling you that a person you do not know who you accepted as a Friend because you didn’t want to be rude has just posted a comment about her wedding anniversary.
This is of no consequence to you at all, but you are being told about it because you have alerts.
On Gmail, I presume these alerts are designed to alert you to the fact that someone has sent you an email or replied to one you’ve sent them, quite as though it had not occurred to you to check your own inbox every now and then, so there is a legitimate need for your inbox to flash in front of you and interrupt what you are doing so you can react immediately to the earth-shattering occurrence of an email being sent to you, just in case death or destitution, presumably, results if you do not respond with lightning speed.
That is the ostensible purpose of these alerts. But if we assume that to date there is no known incidence anywhere in the world in which disaster has resulted from a person not being instantly made aware of a posting on Facebook about a stranger’s wedding anniversary, or not receiving an email from Barclaycard about their money transfer rates for that month, let us consider what the actual purpose is.
The purpose of these alerts is to shatter your attention span, to decimate your ability to think coherently, to be absorbed in a task, to have concentration, to be present.
The new Gmail has been flashing the box about whether I want the boxes every 15 seconds for three days now. In order to resist, I have to click ‘no’ every time.
The only way to stop the box about whether I want the boxes is to say yes to the boxes.
I may have to accept the boxes, just to get rid of the box about the boxes. Once they have made me have the boxes, who knows what they can achieve?
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free