I really did give Outlook a try.
When I started my first real job, the kind that came with health insurance and business cards, I was told—in a tone that screamed, why do you have to be so contrarian, millennial employee?—that while technically I could choose between Gmail and Outlook, there wasn’t really a choice, because 99 percent of employees used Outlook.
And so, because I am someone who follows strong recommendations, I installed the Outlook app and attempted to embark on my email identity transformation.
This was painful for me, because I had grown up on Gmail, thanks to the wise decision-making of my mother, who helped me open up my first account on the platform when I was in elementary school. (Her one mistake was allowing me to use a clever mash-up between my name and that of my guinea pig, which while unfortunate at the time, is now an excellent burner address.)
Immediately, I was appalled by how difficult Outlook was to use. When you reply to a message, the original email lets you know that “you replied to this message,” but doesn’t clearly show you the reply. Why? Also, there were so many tabs! So many options! So much … gray!! It took me 15 minutes to send a calendar invite. And as if that weren’t enough, the default font was Calibri. Calibri!
When I brought these concerns to my roommate, someone who went to business school and is therefore deeply indoctrinated into the cult of Outlook, she raised her eyebrows. “Is it really bad, or are you just not used to it?”
I was not used to it—but the very fact that it was so hard to get used to made it bad.
I lasted a week before deciding to switch back to Gmail, where I have existed happily ever since. I still have to check my Outlook occasionally, which is a good reminder of how far 99 percent of my colleagues have strayed from the light.
The hard part about this is that technically speaking, Outlook is superior to Gmail. It has many more options—from working offline to more effectively managing groups, shared inboxes, and workflow. Had I gathered up a few more ounces of patience and spent a couple more hours digging into settings and reading instructions, I surely could have set up my Outlook in a way that worked for me—but that’s a hard sell when the alternative is ready packaged, no YouTube tutorial required.
Using Microsoft also presents fewer concerns about personal data and privacy. A quick comparison of each app’s privacy disclosures on the App Store adds more points for Outlook. The fact that Google has access to browsing data (Chrome), location data (Google Maps), routine/habits data (Google Calendar), working data (Gmail and Google Drive), entertainment data (YouTube), and photo/video data (Google Photos), among other categories, all connected to a single account or user, is concerning. Even if you trust Google, the idea that a private, profit-motivated company has so much interconnected data on you—such an ability to paint the full picture of who you are—is reason for alarm, or at least second thoughts.
I realize this, and it honestly scares me. And still! Still! I will not stop using Gmail.
I fell in love with Gmail because of how crisp, uncluttered, and easy to navigate it is—its ultimate focus is on users. The connection between Drive, Calendar, and Gmail is seamless and visually appealing. Outlook screams “Look what I can do! Flag start date? Clean up folder? Browse groups? Send this email to Slack?”, whereas Google asks, “What do you need?” Scheduling an email on Gmail (one of my great joys) is a simple, three-click process, whereas on Outlook, you better hunker down to find the options tab, find “delay delivery” among the 14 options presented to you, and then set a time for “do not deliver before”—which then requires you to convert the “deliver on” in your head to Outlook’s “do not deliver before,” when, again, Outlook could have just said “deliver on”!
In a recent Wired piece that highlighted flaws in Gmail’s design, and more specifically how much space it used to promote other services, Justin Pot wrote, “I’d like to live in a world where a nice email app can just be a nice email app—a world where companies don’t try to leverage user bases to accomplish some other corporate aim.”
I, too, would like to live in such a world! But not one where I, as a user, have to bang my head against the wall to get anything done.
I realize my adoration of Gmail’s design and user experience is not uncontroversial. But my love affair with Gmail is really about comfort—the comfort we all feel with the tech that accompanies us through different stages of life. Gmail (albeit different accounts) saw my first email and warmly received the Claire’s coupons I signed up for at the local mall. It saw my college applications and my SAT scores. It saw my notes of panic at the beginning of the pandemic, and since then it’s seen the results of many a COVID test. It’s seen emails planning funerals, and this year, it saw my wedding invitations.
Outlook just doesn’t get it.
Here are stories from the recent past of Future Tense.
Wish We’d Published This
“Lakota Elders Helped a White Man Preserve Their Language. Then He Tried to Sell It Back to Them,” by Graham Lee Brewer, NBC News.
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One of my favorite books is Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth—for the substance, sure, but even more so for the “how.” Luiselli was commissioned to write a piece of fiction to accompany an exhibition at Mexico’s Galería Jumex, a gallery funded by Grupo Jumex, a juice brand and factory. In pondering her assignment, Luiselli observed, “There is, naturally, a gap between the two worlds: gallery and factory, artists and workers, artwork and juice. How could I link the two distant but neighboring worlds, and could literature play a mediating world?” Luiselli ended up writing her novel in installments, printing each section and distributing it to the factory workers, who discussed the work in recorded reading sessions. Luiselli then used the recordings—the workers’ criticism, questions, the sections they lingered on and why—to edit and continue writing. The resulting work of fiction is a fascinating reflection on place, language, art, and value (and, yes, teeth!).
What Next: TBD
On Friday’s episode of Slate’s technology podcast, host Lizzie O’Leary talks to Samuel Woolley, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a computational propaganda researcher, about the complex role bots play on Twitter. Last week, Lizzie asked Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance the question we’ve all been asking: Is Elon Musk any good at business? She also spoke with Ari Sen, a reporter at the Dallas Morning News, about the promises social media surveillance software makes when it comes to preventing school shootings—and how it falls short. Tomorrow, Lizzie will talk to the New York Times’ Sheera Frenkel about Sheryl Sandberg’s legacy—in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Join Future Tense and New America’s Future of Land and Housing Program on Thursday, June 16 at noon Eastern for “What is Coastal America’s Future?”, part of our series on climate adaptation. Climate change puts into question the future of coastal America, home to more than 100 million people. Some Americans are relocating away from coastal areas increasingly at risk of sea-level rise, fires, more powerful storms, and other climate disasters, while others are rethinking what it means to stay. But what if we took this challenge as an opportunity to drastically reimagine life in the United States for the better—on the coasts and beyond? We’ll discuss the mix of creative public policies and societal reimagining needed to ensure that coastal America has a future. RSVP here.