With the recent reveal that the NSA has been monitoring Americans’ email “meta-data,” the term has suddenly transformed from an obscure, techy vocabulary word into something on the tip of the average cable-news watcher’s tongue. Email meta-data is, of course, information about an email (like who sent it and when it was sent) as opposed to the content of the email itself. But if it isn’t clear what that means exactly, a recent visualization project by researchers at the MIT Media Lab called Immersion provides “a people-centric view of your email life” by providing an interactive tool to dive into your own meta-data. Because if the NSA can know about your meta-data, shouldn’t you know about it too?
“Immersion is a tool that allows you to actually experience that life that you have on the web by accessing your meta data, visualizing it, and letting you see the web that you have weaved together with others,” co-creator Cesar Hidalgo explains in a demonstration video. Users plug their Gmail information into a secure platform, and Immersion spins up a personalized web of color-coded nodes showing the interconnectedness within the network of the 100 people you correspond with the most. It also allows you the ability to quickly and easily delete the information.
Hidalgo says the tool offers “self-reflection in a time in which most people are accessing tools that are basically tools of self promotion or tools that enable an overwhelming amount of interactions that is basically unnatural to us.” And while social media may get more attention as the communicative glue of our modern lives, Immersion points out that email remains a more comprehensive record of life in the digital age.