Flame Out

At last there’s a way to cool down before we flame online; those folks at Google have come up with a remedy for emotional hijacks at the keyboard.

A “flame” occurs when we’re a bit agitated – frustrated, anxious, jealous, emotionally desperate – and compose an email, hit “Send” … and regret having sent it.

This happens particularly often online, as I’ve explained in Social Intelligence, because the brain circuitry that kicks in to keep us from embarrassing ourselves while face-to-face on the phone with someone gets no signals online.  The result has been called the “disinhibition” effect; what gets disinhibited is our emotional impulses.

The Google software helps by getting us to switch from the hot-tempered amygdala to our cool neocortex before we hit send.  It’s a neat little device that requires you do about 45 seconds of math problems before the “send” button will operate. Called “Mail Goggles,” the software operates only late at night and on weekends, when we presumably are most predisposed to sending regrettable messages in the heat of the moment.

As Jon Perlow, the software engineer who developed Goggles explains: “Sometimes I send messages I shouldn’t send. Like the time I told that girl I had a crush on her over text message. Or the time I sent that late night email to my ex-girlfriend that we should get back together. Gmail can’t always prevent you from sending messages you might later regret, but today we’re launching a new Labs feature I wrote called Mail Goggles which may help.

“When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you’re really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you’re in the right state of mind?”

To check out this virtual emotional intelligence enhancer:


8 thoughts on “Flame Out

  1. Google, in addition to being motherly, feeding us with almost infinite information, now seeks to acquire a paternalistic role for itself by helping us in regulating and setting our limits. This simple software starts as usual in an innocent and low-profile manner, but marks the beginning of an intervention regarding our intentions and inner lives. Anyway this service can be helpful even though I won’t associate the ability to do simple math with balance, compassion or reflection. I mused about this on Mail Goggles

  2. Hi,

    We’ve been reading your book “Emotional Intelligence” in one of my education courses [Emotion, Cognition and Education] and I just wanted to let you know that your book is really fascinating. How exactly would you define your construct of emotional intelligence?

    Also: You can actually make the goggles work at anytime if you change the presets under settings, it has the option of enabling the goggles at any time you choose. I am forever in awe of google =)

    Hope all is well.


  3. Actually, Google is way behind on this one. Mobile companies around the world (but most notably in Australia) have offered a service like this for years. You can create a list of phone numbers and text addresses and (for a fee) the system will block you from calling those numbers for a prearranged period of time. Just the thing to prevent drinking and dialing before a pub crawl.

  4. Everyone has email they would like to take back. This is the start of a great thing. How about options to:
    – ask “Are You Crazy?” like “Are You Sure?” based on key words in your email
    – have the email read aloud to you
    – have a draft sent to you

  5. I just read your article in the New York Times. What a great article. The problem is, how does one do it? It’s been something I have been trying to quantify for some time and you are the first person I have read that boils it down. Any books I should be looking at? Thanks.

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