ANYONE who has spent more than a few minutes over the last couple of weeks trolling tech blogs or cocktail lounges has probably heard about Mail Goggles, a new feature on Google’s Gmail program that is intended to help stamp out a scourge that few knew existed: late-night drunken e-mailing.
The experimental program requires any user who enables the function to perform five simple math problems in 60 seconds before sending e-mails between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. on weekends. That time frame apparently corresponds to the gap between cocktail No. 1 and cocktail No. 4, when tapping out an e-mail message to an ex or a co-worker can seem like the equivalent of bungee jumping without a cord.
Mail Goggles is not the first case of a technology developed to keep people from endangering themselves or others with the machinery of daily life after they have had a few. For years, judges have ordered drunken-driving offenders to install computerized breath-analyzers linked to their car’s ignition system to prevent them from starting their vehicles when intoxicated.
But as the first sobriety checkpoint on what used to be called the information superhighway, the Mail Goggles program also raises a larger question: In an age when so much of our routine communication is accomplished with our fingertips, are we becoming so tethered to our keyboards that we really need the technological equivalent of trigger locks on firearms?
In interviews with people who confessed to imbibing and typing at the same time — sometimes with regrettable consequences — the answer seems to be yes.
Jim David, a comedian who lives in Manhattan, said he wished he had Mail Goggles one night when he was “looped” and sent an e-mail message to a religious organization, “saying something like, ‘you people are directly responsible for gays everywhere getting beaten,’ ” he recalled in an e-mail message.
“I received a response from their legal department that wanted to know specific information as to exactly how I knew they were responsible, that these were very serious charges, and that I should receive a phone call from the F.B.I. soon,” Mr. David said. “I hit ‘delete’ faster than lightning and took an Ambien.”
Kate Allen Stukenberg, a magazine editor in Houston, said that “the thing that is disappointing about Mail Goggles is that it’s only on Gmail,” because many people need cellphone protection, given the widespread practice of drunk text-messaging.
Last month, after Hurricane Ike ripped through her hometown, Ms. Stukenberg, 29, said, she found herself consoling a friend who had used the tragedy as an excuse to send a drunken text-message to reconnect with an ex-boyfriend — a move she later regretted. “She said that Ike had messed up her apartment so she had no place to stay, so could she stay at his house,” Ms. Stukenberg recalled. “It was total liquid courage.”
Indeed, the Mail Goggles program itself was born of embarrassment. A Gmail engineer named Jon Perlow wrote the program after sending his share of regrettable late-night missives, including a plea to rekindle a relationship with an old girlfriend, he wrote on the company’s Gmail blog. “We’ve all been there before, unfortunately,” said Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. So-called drunk dialing may be as old as the telephone itself, but now, he said, the edge of the abyss is much closer in an era when so many people carry personal digital assistants containing hundreds of contact numbers — including clients, work adversaries and bosses — everywhere, including bars and parties.
And e-mail messages can be particularly potent because they constitute what social scientists call “asynchronous” communication, meaning that exchanges between people do not happen in real time, unlike face-to-face or telephone conversations. People can respond to work-related messages hours after they leave the office — a risky proposition if they happen to log on after stumbling home from happy hour.
The delay in response time means that people have lots of time to shape a response to achieve maximum impact, he said. “If you have eight hours of bar time to think of all the bad things you can come up with, this becomes uniquely damaging,” Dr. Bailenson said.
“If you’ve completely lost all motor skills, Mail Goggles probably isn’t necessary,” Ryan Dodge, a dating blogger who lives in Brooklyn, said in an e-mail message. “But there’s a dangerous point of intoxication where you’re lucid enough to operate a keyboard, but drunk enough to think that professing your love via Facebook to that girl in your 11th grade homeroom is a stellar idea.”
Mr. Dodge, 26, said he had not tried Google’s new program, but he had learned to filter drunken excess from his own late-night e-mails by adopting “ridiculously proper” Jeeves-like grammar.
For example, one late-night e-mail he sent to a woman he was flirting with read: “Good evening. The number I have listed for you doesn’t seem to respond. Quite curious. I would be most grateful to receive your updated number. ... Seasons greetings.”
Text-based communication and alcohol are a potent mix in part because people already tend to be more candid online than they are in person, even before they loosen their inhibitions with a drink, said Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
“Research suggests that for some people, the use of computers or other gadgets creates some emotional distancing from the person they are addressing,” Mr. Rainie said in an e-mail message. The distance, in other words, makes them feel safe — flirting becomes more flirtatious; insults become more insulting.
The latter was the case with one 23-year-old record producer in Manhattan who recalled a drunken text-message mishap on a recent trip to his alma mater, Syracuse University. The producer, who declined to be identified, said he had picked up an undergraduate woman while intoxicated and had accompanied her back to her apartment. But sitting in her kitchen at 4 a.m., he said, he started to have second thoughts. So while she was in the room, he tapped out a message to a friend’s iPhone: “Eww Saratoga, what am I thinking? I can def. do better then this ... can you drive my car and get me out of here?”
Seconds later, her telephone buzzed. He had accidentally sent the message to her, not his friend, the producer said.
Months later, after a few more romantic misadventures with her, “We had a long talk and I apologized,” he said. “I now write songs about getting my life together.”
Friday, November 07, 2008
Grans invents de la humanitat
Pel que sembla, tot i seguir amb els seus plans per dominar a la humanitat, Google encara és capaç de proporcionar-nos fantàstics invents per ajudar-nos a viure millor: