Why is GMail suddenly choosing to hide my Mom's Important emails?
July 14, 2021 10:20 PM   Subscribe

When the GMail page is loaded (or reloaded) on my Mom's iMac, it defaults to hiding her "Important and unread" emails. I very much need to fix this for her.

My elderly mother recently told me that she wasn't getting her emails.

When I looked at GMail on her iMac, I noticed that the section that shows her "Important and unread" emails seemed to have been "collapsed" (hidden) and I had assumed that she accidentally clicked on the little symbol next to the heading—which thus hid those emails.

After clicking on the symbol to again reveal the messages (and which also changes the symbol to a ) , I decided to check if it "saved the change" by reloading the page. When the page reloaded, the Important and unread emails that I had just unhidden were again hidden.

In this screenshot, you can see how the Important and unread emails aren't shown, while—frustratingly—her "Everything else" emails are.

I have reinstalled the macOS (Yosemite) hoping that a fresh install might help, but it did not. Tomorrow I will be updating her to macOS High Sierra (just to get her closer to a current OS), but I'd really like to get rid of this GMail problem.

My thinking had been that maybe it was some sort of OS cruft, but I also thought that maybe a Safari extension might have a bug or something (although turning off the ad-blocker extensions she had didn't fix it—unless that would require a restart of Safari which I didn't try at the time).

My only other thinking is that maybe it has something to do with the increased font sizes we set in her Safari preferences; we set the fonts as large (I think around 24-point and 18-point?) so that there would never be any 7-point text she wouldn't be able to read. And for some pages, I think she has them set at an increased magnification (using the page-specific Zoom in feature (⌘+) in Safari)

The size of the larger fonts/magnification can sometimes make certain pages look a little wonky, but I've never seen it mess with the actual functioning of a page before.

Are there certain Gmail preferences I should try toggling that might help this? Or maybe a certain theme that would just eliminate this problem? I'm not there right now, but it seemed like the "HTML-only" version seemed to display okay, so maybe I can set that as a more barebones default.

I will be trying any and all suggestions tomorrow when I visit her again.

Thank you all for your help!
posted by blueberry to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: try clicking on the gear icon in the top right to bring up quick settings and scroll down to the inbox type section -- switching to the "default" inbox type will get rid of the important section entirely. if you want, you can also click "customize" to disable all the tabs except "primary" so you're looking at all the messages in your inbox, not just google's idea of which messages are important.
posted by panic at 11:34 PM on July 14 [4 favorites]

Something else worth trying when any web based thing starts behaving badly is telling your browser to delete all of its locally stored data for that site (cache, cookies, persistent storage) and then reloading the site to start over. Login states and device IDs are typically stored as cookies, so doing this will require logging into Gmail again after reloading and you might get security warnings from Google about a "new device" logging into the account.

This stuff all gets stored inside the browser's user profile folder, which is typically not touched by reinstalling the browser or upgrading the OS.

Exact procedures for doing it vary per browser. I'm not a Safari user so I can't help you with a step-by-step for Safari but it shouldn't be hard to find... ah, this looks plausible.

As a quick check to see whether this approach is going to work, you might want to try logging into Gmail from a private/incognito window (or whatever Safari calls those), as browsers won't persist local storage between uses of such windows.
posted by flabdablet at 11:54 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]

Also also, try a different browser. If the same misbehaviour appears across multiple browsers, it's almost certain to be caused by a settings change made inside the Gmail account itself, possibly by accidental use of some hotkey combination or other.
posted by flabdablet at 12:02 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should preempt any suggestions for using new machines/devices, or a browser other than Safari; my mother basically fears tech and/or new things...

(we have bought her probably four different smart phones over the years and every one of them she's either put in a drawer or told us to return)

...honestly, it's all we can do to keep her 50% comfortable with her iMac and the two apps she uses it for, Safari and basic MS Word.

It has to be her iMac and it has to be Safari—otherwise she's just going to give up.
posted by blueberry at 12:55 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]

I do not have a Mac or use safari, but I would go to Gmail settings and there is a setting where you can customize what labels are shown, what are only visible when there are unread emails and what are hidden. Maybe something got changed there. (I am not in front of my pc so I cannot be more specific about where in settings it is. Sorry.)

Also, to check if it is the font size, roll it back to the size from before and see if it fixes the problem. If it does, then increase the font size gradually until it creates the problem again and go back one font size.

For my mom, I created a bookmark to a Gmail page that searched for "is:unread". This will show only unread emails. Not sure if that helps, but it helped my mother find her emails.
posted by AugustWest at 2:03 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]

My suggestion to try a different browser was purely for your own diagnostic purposes. If a different browser fixes the problem, you don't need to waste time poking around in the Gmail account's settings. If it doesn't, you don't need to waste time poking around in Safari's settings. Either way, the end goal of making Safari and Gmail work together the same way they used to comes a little closer.
posted by flabdablet at 3:33 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]

Was going to answer the same as panic - does she need the Important filter or is just showing all emails by default OK?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:43 AM on July 15

Are there certain Gmail preferences I should try toggling that might help this? Or maybe a certain theme that would just eliminate this problem? I'm not there right now, but it seemed like the "HTML-only" version seemed to display okay, so maybe I can set that as a more barebones default.

iMac running Big Sur, Safari 14.0.3

TBH I'm not a "power user" of gmail, it's kind of a backup account for me, so I've never really delved deeply into it, and there may well be things I'm unaware of.

I'm definitely not running any "themes", just the default basic white background (on trial, switching to a different theme doesn't affect how my inbox shows up.) I have all my inbox categories expanded in the menu on the right side of the page, and some are also tabs across the top. Exactly how I did this I'm not entirely sure. So my webpage looks a lot different than hers.

Gear in top right corner is "settings" for Gmail. You have the options of "default", "important first", unread first", and a couple of other options you can customize, which I think should allow you to put important AND unread at the top.

Nthing flabdablet's idea of deleting caches & cookies & (some) history, which is probably why reloading the page reverts to the hidden inboxes. The website they linked has the correct methods for doing this.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:06 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!

I finished the upgrade installation to High Sierra this afternoon and tried panic's suggestion of going to the default preference and that totally worked. Yay!

Thanks again, everyone!
posted by blueberry at 2:29 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]

One procedure I've often found useful after fixing something like this for somebody tech-fearful is to try to find the most accidental-looking way of breaking it again. This often reveals a bunch of closely related accidents waiting to happen, and knowing ahead of time how to fix these can save a lot of time on the phone.
posted by flabdablet at 6:07 PM on July 15

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