I Can See Slowly Now

Perfect hangover activity: deleting old emails from 2004 (gmail) or 2007 (when I first joined Facebook) or 2006 (start of my Yahoo account for Air Miles).

Half-awake, it’s a perfect time to scour old emails, going through a process of delete, semi-recall, pleasure or pain, delete.

Why would anyone take the brain-numbing time to do this? Partly because Sunday morning can be spacey to start with.

But also partly because we’re in a (hopefully temporary) time with an incredible amount of personal “conversations” on record, with no easy way to decide how long that record lasts.

I have a beef with this. If software developers are smart enough – as they are – to develop a fresh app for a smartphone every week, or constantly tweak the Facebook interface, why isn’t there an easy way to remove the hundreds of items we upload to the internet?

Part of it is, ironically, about privacy. Yahoo can’t, and shouldn’t, grant me permission to enter your email account to delete things. But still, there must be a way.

And there are some forgiving touches emerging. Developments that only humans with real life, late-night, red-cheeked experiences of chagrin could imagine into being.

Here’s one. At a recent house party, the tequila shots began while a small group of friends endured the cooking time for chipotle chicken wings.

It was the time of night when secrets begin to fall, and when the silliness and joking levels rise.

In those minutes of goofiness I learned something that remains useful days later: gmail has a setting you can use to stop yourself from sending inappropriate emails at certain times – times chosen by you.

A friend was joking that she’d better stay away from the computer that night when she got home. We compared horror stories of over-emotional emails that were sent instead of being saved as drafts.

She said, “Or at least you could use the Mail Goggles.”

What! I had never heard of this, so she explained.

Currently in the “lab” section of Gmail, this is a function you can turn on or off. Next morning, I find it and read:

“Mail you send late night on the weekends may be useful but you may regret it the next morning. Solve some simple math problems and you’re good to go. Otherwise, get a good night’s sleep and try again in the morning.”

Euphemisms galore, wouldn’t you say? “We can help you not send booze-infused rants to your crush, your ex, your boss or anyone else spiking your emotions just now.”

Thoughtful! I click “enable” and ask the Goggles to be my Big Sister from 10 to 11:30 am on Sundays.

Then I attempt a note to my “ranting is release!” friend. Mail Goggles, indeed, intervenes.

Hit “send” and you get a small rectangular pop-up box with the gentle note:

“It’s that time of day…. Are you sure you want to send this? Answer some simple math problems to verify.”

Hilarious. I choose wrong answers to some of the five math equations that you’re supposed to complete in 59, 58, 57 seconds.

The helpful Goggles reply: “Water and bed for you. Or try again.”

If I let it time out, it remarks, gently, that my reflexes seem a bit slow and do I want to try again? If I leave the site, it saves the email as a draft.

It’s the function, but also the tone of the interface that I appreciate. It’s not technical language, and I think it wouldn’t tick me off if I read those messages while well-wined.

And while there may be a program recording the number of times any user puts the Mail Goggles into action, I’m excited to see this moment of code that helps humans choose a bit of dignity in internet communications, instead of simply encouraging us to expose more, and more, and raw-heart, nothing-is-private more.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.

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