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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Gmail and the paradox of organization

I've used Gmail since 7/9/05, when I bought an invite on eBay for a couple bucks. I'm just now downloading it all via Thunderbird, and the volume of information is absolutely staggering. In the 571 days I've had the free account, I've sent and received 17,037 emails, plus spam. As I was downloading it to Thunderbird, it occurred to me that Google products turn our traditional sense of organization on its head, and I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing. On one hand, you've got traditional organization of information. Think of a public library, with floors and floors of stacks and stacks. All the books are carefully organized by topic, author, you name it. The same mindset used to work for organizing email. You put stuff in folders of various types. Some of them group messages by sender, some by subject, etc. That's all out the window. Now you've got the benefits of organization -- rapid recall of information by referring to meaningful associations -- without the work. My inbox used to be an array of meticulously arranged folders, which required conscious effort to maintain. Now, it's as though I tore every page out of every book and tossed them all in a swimming pool. But when I'm looking for something, I can dive in and grab the right page, every time. In making traditional organization quaint -- if not completely obsolete -- I wonder how we're fundamentally altering our thinking about organization. Does the benefit of organization come from having access to a set of well-sorted items? Or does it come from the act of sorting the items, making hundreds of subconscious connections as you go along? I relate this to note-taking in college lectures. I always took pretty good notes, but I rarely went back and studied from them. I used the act of taking notes -- the act of organizing -- to straighten out my thoughts. I would bet that if you rigged someone up with a machine to monitor brain activity, you'd see different areas light up when they're searching on Google than you would when they're looking for something in a library, and I bet the Google-stimulated areas would be related to social dealings and relationships. Now if I can just get a grant...

2 Comments:

At 2/01/2006 8:46 AM, Blogger Jim B. said...

17,037? That's a lotta email. Has spam been a big issue with gmail so far? I've tried to be very careful with my gmail address address, and so far no spam whatsoever. Of course, this is my 'inner circle' address, so I don't use it in webforms and stuff very much.

As opposed to my more 'open' email address, that receives well over 1000 spam emails a month (although, I must say, yahoo's spam filter is pretty good - almost too good sometimes). Sometimes, it even filters out my mother-in-law's emails. Maybe they ought to market that feature...

 
At 2/02/2006 1:17 AM, Blogger Justin said...

I've had gmail for a long time now, well over a year, and I do get some spam, probably enough to be considered a lot, since it's my main address, but the filter is really good, it plops an item of junk mail in my inbox maybe once a month, if that.

 

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