Don’t ask me how I managed to watch a crappy movie like P.S. I Love You not once but twice. Just let me point out the redeeming element in an otherwise dreadful romantic comedy, which was Harry Connick Jr.’s character. Somewhat shy, visibly manic, he confesses to Hilary Swank’s character that he has a medical condition. Basically, he says, he has no “social filter,” so he blurts out the first things that come into his head (ie, “You’re hot!” to Swank’s character). You never see him in front of a computer, but you can imagine he’d be a prime candidate for Mail Googles.
According to an Associated Press story, Google has quietly begun offering a feature called Mail Goggles in its free Gmail service that is designed to prevent users from writing thing they shouldn’t, especially while under the influence. “The Goggles can kick in late at night on weekends. The feature requires you to solve a few easy math problems in short order before hitting ‘send.’ If your logical thinking skills are intact, Google is betting you’re sober enough to work out the repercussions of sending that screed you just drafted,” the story said. (I’ve heard of drunk dialling, but drunk e-mailing?)
IT managers probably wish their coworkers had an Outlook-friendly variant of Mail Goggles when they send in irate help desk requests or other messages that come across as too demanding, insensitive to the IT department’s workload or a lack of understanding around technology standards and processes. Poll enough users, however, and you would more than likely come across those who could cite instances where IT managers could have benefited from some Mail Goggles before issuing their last screed about corporate usage policies.
Unless you’re actually inebriated, Mail Goggles function as a check and balance against the inevitable moments of human error that creep into electronic communications. These errors include tone, level of confidentiality and clarity of ideas. I wish someone would study this more scientifically (Pew Centre, I’m talking about you), but I would suspect there is almost a corresponding ratio in the number of Goggle-worthy communication failures the more easy the electronic system is to use, although I would think it’s difficult to insult someone accidentally in a text message.
Mail Goggles would also be useful for the recipient of a message, and not just its author. Sometimes in their haste to get the ball rolling users may not adopt the polite formalities with their IT department that they would, say, their customers. IT departments, in turn, sometimes read more impatience into requests than is always there. The real question is how would such Goggles function? A math test isn’t going to cut it. A personality test would take too long. My suggestion would be a variation on the idea of addressing others as you would like to be addressed. If you really want to say the right thing, Golden Rule Goggles always offer the best fit.