Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 31, 2018

Your Reply … Sucks!

Although this post is about a software application, it is not a review. This is a modest, well-informed and carefully considered rant. 

Google® recently introduced a new interface for their gmail application.

We all know what to expect when we read the words “New! Improved!”

Here comes something worse than the original. It may look dressier and cost more, but it doesn’t work/taste/look as good.

I am, as it happens, not only an expert in adapting to new and less-satisfying software updates; I’m a guru. I’ve had decades of adapting to software upgrades, each more dysfunctional than the last. As programmers become more accomplished in exploiting greater capacity for hardware processing power, they progressively lose all sense of how human beings actually use software. Each new release incorporates arcane features that push the boundaries of the possible, without regard to whether or not anyone actually works that way. That’s a digression, but since I’m ranting, I need to establish my bona fides. I have cursed and hacked my tortured course from BASIC and CP/M through every iteration of Windows, Apple/Mac and any number of other systems and the applications they run.

With its new gmail version, when one receives an email, Google — those sovereigns of search, kings of context, dominators of definition — helpfully suggest useful responses based on the content of the message. They give you buttons with preprogrammed responses to lead off your reply.

If you don’t have gmail, here is an unedited screen shot of a message I just sent myself. Read it, then look at the bottom of that image for the three responses Google suggests:

Gmail question screen

Google’s engineers have tapped the firm’s mind-boggling ability to parse the meaning of natural language and suggested how one might reply. NOTE, friends, that Google not only knows I’m making an inquiry without the presence of a question mark — it knows I’m asking about their own gmail interface. Well, what do they suggest? Two of the three suggested responses are positive reviews, the third is neutral. There is no negative alternative. Hmmm.

Next, I sent myself a message indicating that I’ve had a bad day. Here is a capture of the exact screen that opened in gmail. Prepare yourself. This won’t be pretty.

Gmail bad day screen

There, friends, with probably more than a million words in its lexicon, spanning every conceivable nuance of human emotion, empathy and fellow-feeling, are the suggestions the titans of tech have for responding to a fellow sufferer in this world of pain: “Sorry to hear that,” “Ouch!” and “That sucks.”

According to Google, those replies — representing the culmination of a million years of evolution, more than 5,000 years after language was first recorded, 3,000 years after Homer first penned a tale of human drama and with a thousand years of development and refinement of the English language — are my choices.

If you ever needed proof that we are participating daily in the constraint of our range of expression into a shorthand of emoticons and petty stock phrases, untempered by thought, consideration or intelligence, this is it. An industry-dominating enterprise built on the power of language employs humans with expressive capacity so slight it would embarrass a cockroach. It’s no wonder we elect leaders who’ve never read a book and have the vocabulary of fourth-graders.

“That sucks,” indeed.

Thanks, Google. How long before you steal a stock phrase from one of those advanced thinkers in a position of power, offering the response, “Sad!”

© Brad Nixon 2018. Google and gmail are registered trademarks of Google LLC. Windows is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation. Apple and Mac are registered trademarks of Apple Inc.


  1. I’ve had these a while on my phone app. I think I’ve only managed to use one of the buttons twice in about 3 or so months.

    Might be time to put them at the bottom of your blog, though – instead of this wonderful comment facility, you could just have three buttons, and a tally of people going ‘Yay!’, ‘Nay’, or ‘Meh’. ‘Twould save us all a bit of trouble…


    • Criminy. What a cynic. I’ll um, take that under advisement. Thanks ever so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s only one button I clicked on the ‘new and improved’ Gmail interface: the one that says, “Take me back to Classic Gmail.”

    At least they’re still offering words as reply options, instead of emojis. (Would it be wrong to edit out emojis included in comments on a personal blog? Asking for a friend.)


    • You chose wisely. I think editing any comment for any reason is fine. I rarely have to do it, but will for any number of reasons.


      • Editing the content of comments is something I don’t do, but I’ve found a solution for troublesome situations.

        Granted, in ten years there have been only four comments that have required intervention: three for language (one case required use of the Urban Dictionary) and one for overly-enthusiastic political commentary that descended into name-calling. In each instance, I put the comment into moderation, then emailed the person, explaining why I’d done so and offering them the opportunity to revise their comment. Three did, with thanks, and the one who sent me to the Urban Dictionary disappeared into the ether. Perfect.

        Liked by 1 person

      • A reasonable approach. As you’ve noticed, I moderate all comments. I did that many years ago in response to my first-ever problematic comment (and there have been very few). I should probably take a page from your book. It’s a sound practice. Thanks.
        I do make a point of stating in my “About” section the limits I place on language, political commentary, etc., and serve notice that I reserve the right to control comments.
        In turn, I bite back on my inclinations to dash off many socio-political comments that will only stir up antipathy. It’s not what I’m doing here.
        I enjoy receiving comments, but get nothing like the volume your blog attracts. You’d spend all day moderating them, so your approach makes sense.


  3. Thanks, Brad.
    It is curious that “upgrades” make things more difficult, and “help” never comes close to helping. Maybe it’s Orwellwan, like ignorance is strength.


    • Don’t get me started on the Help function. An Orwellian oxymoron


  4. Unbelievable!


  5. Once again, I’m lucky, apparently. I got the new Gmail, too, to my surprise, as I had been ignoring the prompts to accept it.

    When the new version suddenly appeared without any advance warning or request, I clicked on none of the buttons you and your readers clicked on to choose the new version I “wanted” (I don’t remember what I selected). And — voila! — none of your suggested response buttons appeared below email texts. Happy day!

    Now I simply have bolder, easier to read emails and files for my old eyes. I’m quite pleased with it the new version. And they say old people are grumpy. Oh yeah?


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