In a few weeks we will lose Inbox by Gmail, a service providing an enhanced front end to Gmail. Google has decided that Gmail is good enough and is killing Inbox like a bull in the ring, spears sticking out of it and some fool in a ridiculous costume showing off like he's done something. I could complain about this all day, but that would be less interesting than comparing cat food.
Inbox has been a good tool. It looks and feels good, is efficient, and automates email some. I'm no fan of email — I'd rather write letters — but it's a necessity and so I sought out a good tool for it. That was Inbox.
Good tools are tough to come by and often require lots of experimentation. It took two semi-disposable fountain pens, and three really good ones to arrive at the pen I currently use which is just right for me in every way. Similarly, I've crafted a sheet of lined paper through trial and error over the course of years. (I don't make the paper but have designed a page I print on the back of used copy paper.) Online, I've found a fantastic minimalist writing tool. Six years ago my wife bought me the Chromebook Pixel on which I'm typing. It was the finest of tools when she gave it to me and remains fantastic no matter what Google says.
The best tools need to be owned outright. The fountain pen is mine and will be for another twenty years, maybe longer. The only way I'll lose it is if I, well, lose it, have it stolen, or break it somehow. It's the same with the paper. These things are mine.
The minimalist writing tool is great, but the guy who runs it can shut it down tomorrow. Google stopped updating the Chromebook. In those cases, I'm out of luck just as I am with Inbox. Much of why I prefer analog tools has to do with ownership which makes them much more dependable, as any good tool must be. Google can't end-of-life my fountain pen (though they might want to).
There is more than sentimental value to ownership. Ask any renter who has been told by the landlord it's time to move. It's possible to have a good tool that is rented or borrowed, but to truly good tools must be owned. I know everyone thinks Google Docs will be around forever, but I can't guarantee that, so it is only a good tool so long as Google allows me to use it. That's hardly dependable.
I thought Inbox was a good tool, but in a few weeks it will wink out of existence and there's absolutely nothing I can do about that. I just borrow it.
It's said that if you are not paying for a service, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold. I add that if you don't own the product even a little bit, you are owned a little bit by it. I got owned by Inbox just as I've been owned by Gmail for years. Sometimes that's okay, but the more I think about it, especially as I have to let go of Inbox, I'm certain that it isn't very good.
Compromise is part of life and my addiction to online word processing, email, and the rest come with a price. Every morning, and often through the day, I pick up the fountain pen, uncap it, and let it glide across the page. The words are all mine, the paper too, and the pen is completely my possession which kind of sets me free as a truly good tool should.