Why a Woman Visualized Every Email From Her Exes

If you’re active online, almost every part of your life leaves a digital trail. Your photos, Facebook posts, work communications, online shopping receipts—all are recorded. When it comes to the idea of Big Brother surveillance (as the recent Apple vs. FBI controversy highlights), these records are certainly disconcerting. But when it comes to your relationships, they can be downright devastating. (Ashley Madison hack, anyone?)

Alas, it’s the price of connection in the modern age. Relationships are born—and often die—through our digital communication. The emails, texts, photos, and messages exchanged document the relationship lifespan from inception. It’s sweet if you’re still together, but when a relationship dies IRL, it remains alive on servers for the rest of time. What do we do with that data, then?

Quantified Selfie is a new online series that explores how our data shapes our identity or, rather, what we can learn from our own seemingly innocuous data. The first project in the series is Forget Me Nots, a romantic exploration of one woman’s email inbox.

We’re all guilty of revisiting our own romantic history online—stalking an ex’s Instagram or rereading old texts and emails. With over 1,924 emails from former loves in her inbox, Forget Me Nots creator Allison’s Gmail account is an emotional land mine. While she may go through her day without ever thinking about her exes, a memory or inbox search can bring her to an old email exchange in an instant. And that can trigger all sorts of emotions.

To get a sense of exactly how much emotional (and digital space) these emails take up, Allison graphed her digital data, showing the volume of messages exchanged and the duration of the relationship.

(Check the interactive graphic here.)

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Why? Having instant access to these emails is dangerous, as she explains:

Rummaging through your email archive is a bit like opening Pandora’s box — it starts an innocuous search driven by curiosity and has the potential of ending in emotional doom and gloom.

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Allison’s emails are a great example of how self-data explorations can give us a fresh perspective. For example, you may experience tremendous heartache over a relationship. But when you see how very little time you were involved in it, according to an email data comparison, it may help you better compartmentalize your feelings.

We’d like to think so, at least. Check out more Quanitifed Projects as they post here.

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