The Implications of Gmail’s “Undo Send”


There have long lived rumors about a magical plugin that could be installed within your Gmail: upon activation, a button would pop up in your inbox and allow you to delete sent e-mails within 30 seconds of dispatch. Despite overwhelming insistence from the people who, uh, invented said button, I have personally never believed such sweet relief from the nightmare that is cc’ing my entire contact list on an angry e-mail to Seamless about the chicken that popped up in my vegan pasta dish to be true.

According to yesterday, however, this button is now public and ready for popular consumption, which means that you and me and everyone around us have but one more opportunity to take what we said and say it again — this time properly.

In theory, this facility makes spectacular sense. You accidentally sent an e-mail to your boyfriend about your other boyfriend. Phewph! Take it back. You told your boss that his balding head reminds you of your vagina two weeks after a wax even though you meant to share the description with your best friend. That can bounce back too. You e-mailed your mom and threatened to sue if she doesn’t send back the hitman you sent for her? Awkward! Not meant for her. And she doesn’t need to know that, really.

So it’s great, yes, in theory. But in practice, I wonder what this will mean for our respective conceptions of a) relationships, b) the abundant choice we are offered and c) political correctness. Let me break it down by letter.

The grey area that is communication in the early stages of a burgeoning romance allow for substantial neuroses to be factored into the thought process of achieving a mate. E-mail, as far as I’m concerned, is the last standing system (save for, I guess, speech) that provides the solace of knowing there is no grey. It is black and white — sent or not sent, as simple as that. To provide one more loophole for girlfriends consoling one another over smoothies in the following sentiment, “Maybe he pressed un-send to fine-tune his delivery,” just…breaks my heart.

On choice: as is true with the case of a pared-down closet (no two hour process of getting dressed when you abide by a uniform) there is something rather calming about the thought that, once an e-mail is sent, it’s out of your hands. The choice is made. I wonder whether the ability to “undo” is like a closet full of too many great clothes that stand in the way of your best judgment, as opposed to a humble one that shrewdly and granularly reflects you.

And finally! On the topic of political correctness: The pervasiveness of the institution has become so infuriating for some, like Jerry Seinfeld (who now won’t perform on college campuses) that it fucking paralyzes us!

Even in writing this out, I cringe wondering how you will be receive the following sentiment: critical thinkers and writers and comedians especially deserve carte blanche when it comes to the rules of being PC. As a matter of fact, they have a moral obligation to speak their mind and do it candidly; if we’re all too afraid to say what we’re thinking, we’re not creating tension, and from this tension is precisely where innovative thoughts then opinions, then ideas and matter are born. What is a feather if it can’t be ruffled?

There is a level of respect with which we should all conduct ourselves, but in adding one more moving part to our experiences with e-mail — the ability to unsend and therefore to take back what could be perceived as un-PC, we’re adding another layer to the fear that is saying the wrong thing.

Because ultimately, saying the wrong thing is what moves the needle, and if we’re not moving the needle, we remain in a single vacuum that neither propels us forward nor pushes us backward and when it comes to intellect, you know what the only thing worse than regression is? Stillness. Drafts.





Feature GIF by Hannah Kellner

If you had read our Email Etiquette Guide, you would never have had to click “unsend” your message in the first place. Maybe you should just unplug from the internet all together. Or just go on a little vaycay and the only email you’ll be sending is your automated vacation message

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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