The problem with Gmail's new 'unsend' feature

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Google recently announced a new feature, allowing users to “unsend” an email up to 30 seconds after pulling the trigger. Even a Hotmail user would know that this is a terrible idea—one that is fated to send all Gmail account holders into a downward spiral of fear and loathing and every type of neuroses in between.

Until now, an email blunder might lead to a Kübler-Ross model of grieving: denial (I couldn't possibly have sent that), anger (Goddammit, I just sent that!), bargaining (If I could just unsend that, I'd give up guacamole on my Chipotle burritos for a YEAR), depression (I’m not worthy of anything because I just sent that), acceptance (yes, I sent that, and now it’s time to move on).

But now that Google has introduced its "unsend" email option*, it’s opened up a pandora’s box of neuroses. Allow me to explain.


It’s not uncommon to send an email to the wrong person, or—gasp!—accidentally hit "reply-all" on an email that was meant to be private (a.k.a. when you feel the need to mock the sender’s forced use of emoji). Hell, one time I accidentally sent a transcript of a very graphic and objectively gross conversation (for journalism, I swear) to the entire staff of a website instead of the one person for whom it was intended. (I then Barbara Streisand-ed it by replying all and saying “DON’T LOOK AT THIS EMAIL,” but that’s a story for another day.)

While I do wish I could have taken that email back, actually installing an “unsend” feature on Gmail will only throw a wrench in the natural order of emailing.


My sense of self is governed by the idea that, for the most part, once I put a message there, I can’t take it back. Sure, I can address what I said and take back the sentiment and move forward, but I can’t reverse putting something out there. Gmail has undone this, and has therefore undone me.


When I send an important email, I take the time to make sure it is perfect. I draft the email in a Text Edit window so as to avoid accidental sending. I make sure my spelling is on point, that I sound professional, and that I am saying what I want to say. And then I hit send.

This process, I have found, is the safest for my mental health. I already second-guess myself enough. Now, being able to take something back—well, here’s an abridged list of thoughts that would run through my mind if I had 30 seconds to rethink every email I sent.

  • Did I say the right thing?
  • Did I send it to all the right people?
  • Did I come off as a know-it-all jerk?
  • Did I come off as a know-nothing idiot?
  • Why is it so hard for me to unlearn double spacing after a period?
  • What if my brain has lost the ability to learn and I’m stuck at my intelligence level forever?
  • What if I have early onset dementia like Grandma?
  • It’s all downhill after 24, isn’t it?
  • What’s the point?
  • Oh God, did I accidentally attach that embarrassing Halloween selfie instead of the spreadsheet?

As you can imagine, it would only take a handful of emails before I’d be eligible for hospitalization. Sure, users can opt out of the feature—but the point is, by allowing folks to unsend their emails, humans are playing God with the organic order of online communication. And if you've seen Jurassic Park, you know humankind was never meant to hold such power.


* For those Gmail users who would like to unleash this existential travesty upon your psyches, go to that 'lil gear icon below your profile pic, hit "Settings," and find "Enable Undo Send."  You can then choose your cancellation period: five, 10, 20, or 30 seconds.  If you don't see it, thank your stars know that it will take about two weeks for the setting to finish rolling out.