Published On: Sat, Apr 23rd, 2011

Curse Gmail Even Though I Still Love You

Gmail's undo sent mail buttonBecause of technology it seems the staffing industry is losing its personal touch. Other than during an interview, I may never see my candidates ever again. Technology’s efficiency is making a physical presence obsolete. Something as simple as direct deposit has all but eliminated that weekly face-to-face interaction we had on payday.

My candidates are slowly quickly morphing into algorithmic pixels on my computer screen, neat little chat boxes with correct spelling and grammar-deficient IMs, and a never-ending stream of emails greatly outnumbering the number of times a candidate calls.

My colleagues and I joke of a day when the brick-and-mortar presence of agencies will slowly fade as the industry shifts to more cost-cutting options offered by the Internet [not to mention the savings it provides]. All we need to do is figure out a way to verify the person we’re talking to is really the person we’re talking to and why am I needed again? You’ll be able to hire someone overseas to do my job for a fraction of the cost!

I do make it a point to develop a rapport, a personal connection to my candidates, though. If an assignment is close I’ll stop by. If I’m invited to a birthday party or other social event, I’ll pop in. I even Facebook some of my candidates [and clients who’ll be my friend] to “get to know each other” in a more personable way.

But no matter how hard we try, technology is slowly turning us all into cyborgs. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; just a new thing we need to understand before we can appreciate it. I remind my “seasoned” candidates that today’s generation is so connected that once the management ranks of companies are saturated with the Gen X-ers and Millennials, those who don’t IM or know what AYTMTB means are going to be left behind with the cassette deck.

Technology wasn’t my thing back in college. It was a slow evolution that I even started to see its worth. The only reason I got an email is because Tamiko Sherman made it sound so Star Trek like. Instead of leaving a message on an answering machine and waiting for someone to get home to hear it, you could send an email that could be checked wherever there was an Internet connection. Today that place is in everyone’s pocket.

My first email was justdavid@hotmail.com, which I’m sure belongs to someone else now. Since then I’ve had many email addresses from AOL to Pipeline to my ncat.edu to Juno to Yahoo to realmofdrg.com to whatever had the coolest interface.

And Then There Was Gmail

My homeboy Devin Johnson was the first one to “invite” me to create an account; you couldn’t just go to their site and create a new account when they first introduced it. You had to know someone who was in and when you got that invitation to create your account, it felt like you were joining an exclusive club. Brilliant marketing strategy.

Gmail was cool, I guess, but email was email and getting everyone to stop sending email to my Hotmail was annoying, so I’d use both. As well as my Yahoo account because I liked the address book best. And of course we left each other messages on our BlackPlanet pages.

But Gmail had one feature that was unique at the time that hooked me. Their IM was built into the browser. No need for a separate software download that needed to be opened separately like AIM, MSN Messenger or Yahoo Chat. I was typing an email [or reading but that’s irrelevant like a cassette deck] when in the bottom right corner popped up an IM from who-knows-who. At first it felt the same as if someone rudely barged in on me while sitting on the toilet.

An Epiphany

But then it all became clear. Without leaving the page where I was typing [or reading] an email — I could also chat. No need to have to remember to load up and log into another piece of software to chat anymore. No need to toggle between software and Internet to talk and read email at the same time. No need to download another program, draining precious computer memory when 256k RAM was standard. Gmail was becoming the Swiss knife of online communication.

And instead of a chronological order of received email, the latest at the top and who knows where the first email was, your “conversations” of the same subject line were kept together. Ingenious. And instead of filing away an email into a folder, you applied a label or many labels to that one email, allowing you to organize each email with several different labels. And that doesn’t even include the fact that Google gave away so much storage space that there was no need for a delete button. Literally. You would archive old mail, but trying to delete an email for good took a geek, a hack and a prayer.

The latest feature, though, has turned me into a volunteer salesperson for Gmail. I finally convinced Nduku to use her Gmail account as her primary account [or was it the 200 unfiltered spam emails she got daily from Yahoo?]. The priority box feature finally helps you really get your inbox in order. The way Gmail puts the most important emails at the top, separated from the grouped starred emails, and then the grouped together unread emails, and then the rest of your emails is more ingeniousness.

No more scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling looking to see if you actually got an email from someone important. And no more going back a few months looking for that one important email you meant to follow up on. It’s all organized as soon as you log in.

Gmail has tons of other features offered in their “Labs.” You can talk to someone on the other side of the planet [with video] for free. You can text someone’s phone. You can watch YouTube videos in your email. And then there’s the face-saving “undo sent mail” link in case you hit the send button before you realize it’s addressed to the wrong person.

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be interviewing you through our Gmail accounts. Or maybe someone in India will be interviewing me for a virtual recruiter position for a staffing agency based in Sweden breaking ground in the U.S. without having to break ground!?

Harry McCracken, a blogger about personal technology at Technologizer, shares in Time magazine the Gmail story in Gmail: Can’t Live With It — Or Without It.

Every so often, I get fed up with Gmail and flee. Sometimes I abscond to a big-name rival like Microsoft’s recently spruced-up Hotmail, and sometimes to a spunky upstart like Threadsy. (Thanks to Gmail’s support for the IMAP e-mail protocol, it’s possible to abandon it for an alternative and take your e-mail address and mail with you.) So far, I have always come skulking back. For all of Gmail’s flaws, it has the same relationship to other e-mail clients that Churchill said democracy has to other forms of government: it’s the worst one except for everything else.

I bet if you emailed him it would get routed to his Gmail account.

In the next few years I’m sure email will undergo a massive interface lift and today’s features will be tomorrow’s relics. Najwa will be asking, “why IM when you can videomail?”

I know what you’re thinking — AYTMTB [and you’re telling me this because…]?

Well, until that day, I’m going to relish this moment in time when I can still interact face-to-face with my candidates, my co-workers and my people. Technology is slowly quickly making it harder and harder to get a job, to keep a job and sometimes to love a job. Especially when everyone you interact with is neatly packaged on your computer monitor.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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