Gmail saved my life - Joel Hall

I consider myself someone who likes to try new things, but when it comes to the Internet, I tend to stick to what I know.

Being part of the first generation of students that grew up with computers in their classrooms, I was one of the first lucky people to have an e-mail address. At the time I established my e-mail address while in middle school, the Internet was so new that even the simplest, most common names weren't taken.

At the age of 14, I decided I would, one day, own a company that incorporated my last name. With no extra numbers, dashes, or underscores, I chose an incredibly simple e-mail address that I have used for my entire adult life.

That was until three weeks ago when I decided to finally cave-in and get a Gmail address.

When it comes to things like traveling to new countries and snacking on indigenous food that would make most people cringe, I have a completely open mind. When it comes to e-mail addresses, however, for some reason, I am doggedly loyal.

At first, I saw no reason to change it. It was a very professional e-mail address. I was smart enough to know at the age of 14 that giving yourself an e-mail address like "sexychica42" or "boblikes2party" was career suicide.

The e-mail address itself wasn't so much the problem. However, the fact that my e-mail address had existed since the beginning of time meant it had been poached to death by hackers and spammers.

Before I made the switch from Yahoo, I was getting 300 e-mails a day - about 20 from real people, who meant to e-mail me, and about 280 from scam artists, who wanted to give me cheap Canadian medicine, "free" Nigerian money, and a bunch of other things I didn't need.

After spending an hour a day sifting through electronic garbage and hearing so many good things about Gmail from a lot of friends, I decided it was time to start fresh.

At first glance, I wasn't impressed by Gmail's minimalist interface. However, after about a day of using it, I realized it's probably the best decision I have made in a while. Gmail is e-mail for busy people who realize the Internet is important, but wouldn't mind if it fell into a manhole for a week or two.

With my old e-mail address, I would have to spend minutes waiting for attachments like pictures, video and music to open in completely new windows - precious minutes that could be used for doing something else. With Gmail, all of the attachments open right there, without having to ever leave the original page.

Instead of searching through hundreds of e-mails to find the last conversation you had with someone months ago, all of the e-mails are bundled in easy-to-review conversation chains.

Instead of creating folders to catalog e-mails, you can just label things and keep it moving. The SPAM guard is also the best I've seen out there. Right now, the only SPAM messages I get now are ones forwarded to me from my old e-mail address.

Making a decision to change one simple thing about my life has freed up hours of my time. That's a blessing in itself.

It makes me slightly nauseated when I think of how disconnected from the world I feel if I haven't checked my e-mail, "Tweeted" something, or posted something on Facebook in a day or two.

While the Internet will probably always be with us in some form, I believe the people at Gmail can, at least, appreciate a simpler time when people received letters written by hand, kids played outside, and e-mail wasn't necessary.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.