The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dear Google, About these recent changes to Gmail

Dear Google,

What, what, what are you doing?

Look at your life. Look at your choices. Look at your users. Look what you just did to Gmail.

Please stop this.

Lately, I’ve noticed a worrisome trend. You are becoming the very thing we fled to you to escape. You are changing — for the worse.

Change, generally speaking, is bad. I have always hated change. Even in 2008, when everyone was getting excited about change as a general concept, I had to be talked into it. Especially online, change is too often synonymous with “replacing something I liked with something I still like, but like less.”

Facebook changes are one thing. Those just give more of our personal data to large corporations, and giving my personal data to large corporations has always been one of my hobbies and-or interests.

But Gmail interface changes we have to live with.

Google, do you remember how you got so popular in the first place? It was because the rest of the Internet was gross and cluttered with pop-ups, tabs and complicated interfaces. In order to get information about things, you had to pretend to be a P. G. Wodehouse character. “Jeeves,” you would say, “how do I fix a carburetor?” and Jeeves would attempt to guess what you were talking about.

Then came Google in its glorious streamlined simplicity. If you wanted more information about something, you didn’t have to hack your way through the jungle of Yahoo! or type a keyword into AOL. You just Googled it. Easy. Simple. Nice. Gmail offered lots of storage, great spam filtering and was noteworthy for its lack of clutter and simple, straightforward interface.

But now you are doing a good impression of that woman who is trying to use plastic surgery to transform herself into a big cat because her husband once made an offhand remark about “liking the look of those big cats” or something. Look, Google, if we wanted to be married to a big cat, we would have married one, or done the closest legal equivalent. You don’t need to change. Please.

It’s not like Facebook, where we’re trapped forever so we can seem gracious about our friends’ milestones. There are other places we can go. Bing’s out there. Don’t laugh like that, Google, it’s unbecoming. I have used Bing search on multiple occasions, and only one of them was because I had opened Internet Explorer by mistake.

You can’t just switch things up on us and expect us to like it. Well, you can, but I wish you wouldn’t. Don’t take me for granted, Google. I will get right off this bus that I am taking to pay you for Google Glass so I can own a pair marginally earlier than most people — see if I don’t!

Can you just pretend to listen, maybe, while I rifle through these complaints?

First off, you used to have a nice, easy-to-understand interface. Now there are all these wacky symbols that I cannot interpret to save my life. I clicked what I thought was a very excited octagon and it turned out I was marking all work e-mails as spam.

What have you done to all the icons? Why do I have to click on this square in a hat? Yes, I know it’s a trash can, but what’s wrong with just saying “Trash”? You are an e-mail program, you realize? It is okay to presume that people can read.

Why can I only compose emails in a tiny window off in a corner? It makes me feel like I am doing something wrong. Why are you hiding the “reply all” button? Or am I just missing something?

It is not that I am becoming crotchety and old, although I worry that this might be the case every time I object to a Newfangled Computer Thing. It’s that I appreciate good design. If you are confused about what good design is, just look at the way your Gmail program looked a month ago.

Maybe I don’t mind the new tabs. “Primary”? “Social”? “Promotions”? It’s not a bad innovation, but it’s the principle of the thing. Also, what if my best friend were named Dave Groupon? I would resent having to pick through three inboxes in order to hear from him. Just ask me. If you were my roommate, Google, you would at least mention that you were about to paint the entire apartment teal. You would think you’d ask about changing something I stare at far, far more than my actual surroundings. (Is my apartment teal? I ought to check.) Er — look, I don’t like what you’re doing.

Just check with me first. This is like when your husband goes out and tattoos a poorly designed elephant on his personal regions. If you’re going to have to stare dolefully at it for the next 30 years, you wish someone would at least have asked you first.

But no. Why bother asking? If you asked, you might notice that Google is systematically dismantling all the things that we liked about Google in the first place. You’re pulling a Magneto on us, turning into the very thing you most despised. Please, calm down and stop giving us features we do not want. This is literally a thing Magneto does in the first X-Men movie, and it was a problem then.

I understand that progress is progress. I am, indeed, on my way to pick up Google Glass as we speak, and I intend to wear it at the dinner table and give you all my metadata and location data forever. But I still wish you’d pretend I had an option. The illusion of choice. That’s all I — or any user, really — can ask for.