Gmail suffered a service outage earlier today, leaving millions of people unable to send emails. The outage also affected other Google apps such as Google Drive, preventing users from sending email attachments.
Hundreds if not thousands of Gmail users flocked to Twitter to complain about the outage.
Their apparent irritation is misplaced. Many users were just as likely to benefit from Gmail’s absence, since research has consistently shown that emails can reduce productivity and increase stress. So rather than preventing people from working, the outage may have caused the opposite.
Google is arguably one of the most reputable tech companies in the world, so the fact that Gmail went down this morning was a cause for surprise. The email service counts around 1.5 billion users worldwide , many of whom apparently believe that Google is somehow impervious to technical problems.
Aside from surprise, most users posting to Twitter expressed annoyance about having to wait to send emails and attachments. As if they had nothing else to do in the meantime.
Judging by media coverage of the outage, the consensus seems to be that it’s a minor disaster . Some people were inconvenienced for about an hour, which I suppose is newsworthy because it contradicts the popular fiction that neoliberal capitalism is a utopia of non-stop, seamless convenience.
The outage wasn’t a disaster for work and productivity, however. It was quite the opposite: for every person who struggled to upload an attachment, there were hundreds, thousands or maybe millions who didn’t receive a tedious work email.
You might think that 100% of work emails are necessary and important. You’re wrong: most work emails are distracting fluff intended to reassure the person sending them (or that person’s boss) that they’re doing something.
Most work emails ironically distract people from their work. So by going down, Gmail has likely helped millions of people work without disturbance this morning. Hooray!
This isn’t just opinion. The idea that emails can be more trouble than they’re worth is backed up by a considerable body of research.
In 2016, researchers from MIT, the University of California and Microsoft (how ironic) published a paper on “Patterns of Email Use on Productivity and Stress .”
“The longer daily duration spent on email, the lower the assessed productivity and the higher the stress.”
Other papers back up this research. A 2014 paper from the University of British Columbia also found that email causes stress .
“Our findings showed that people felt less stressed when they checked their email less often,” said Kostadin Kushlev, the study’s lead author.
A 2o12 US Army and UC Irvine study discovered that being “cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better.”
This could go on indefinitely. The point is, Gmail going down is a cause for celebration. For several hours this morning, people actually had the opportunity to work uninterrupted.
They didn’t have to stop to reply to their boondoggling boss or some jobsworth who wanted to feel important. They just worked.
Gmail — like many other email services — is a scam. It’s not a productivity booster. It’s a way for Google to collect even more of your personal data . Let’s hope it goes down again.