Stick a Pin in Me

At several points in my life I have had a bulletin board. On these boards I’ve pinned post cards from trips, photos of friends, menus, magnets, mementos, school fliers and other little arcana as suited me at the time. I remember a miniature flag from Liechtenstein and a newspaper clipping about Bonnie and Clyde were on one of them. Given their predictable appearance in the back-to-school aisles of the local big box store, it’s probably safe to assume that the custom continues.   

Over the past few years a virtual equivalent of this practice has emerged through the social media service, Pinterest. With a Pinterest account one can troll through millions (if not billions) of photos on the Internet and “pin” them to virtual boards of one’s own making. 

Whatever your interests, preferences or proclivities, you can find another pinner who has images you might like. Do you like gardening? Music? How about assault rifles? Knitting? Classic cars? Travel? Cooking? Witty aphorisms? Bad jokes? Crafts for kids? Cute puppies? Hairstyles? Exotic landscapes? Antique chainsaws? Goldfish? Scantily clad women? Scantily clad men? Scantily clad old tractors? Then Pinterest probably has something you’d like to ogle. 

While I generally eschew social media (Twitter and Instagram being the exceptions), I have come to like Pinterest. I have several “boards” onto which I have pinned images that please me. 

Think of it as a magazine that you assemble for yourself – and hope someone else might want to read.

As most people on the site do, I have content separated by theme. There’s one for old cars, one for furniture, one for gardens, one for libraries and bookshelves (aka bookshelf porn — who knew that was a thing?), and I also have a board I dubbed “Random Stuff That Appeals to Me.” That’s where things go until I recognize that I have forty-eight pictures of cats sleeping on teapots and move them to their own dedicated board.

As above, I like to give the boards a catchy name. The gardening board is called “I’ve Got a Secret.” The old cars are called “She Being Brand New.” The one dedicated to posters and visual art is dubbed “Caution: Graphic Content.” Houses: “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” You probably get the metaphorical picture (and the references). Think of it as a magazine that you assemble for yourself – and hope someone else might want to read.

What does all this get me? Not a lot directly, but I do many things that require a strong aesthetic prompt. Often these images provide a mental sourdough starter for actual real-world projects. 

On a deeper level, the images I’ve selected and organized probably do what a lot of social media content does: inspire aspirational purchases and desires. They make me easier for data aggregators to bin in like-minded clusters. They also prod a kind of existential reflection.

For the sake of argument, let’s say I own a $2,000.00 bespoke suit. When I put it on, do I look like that pen of John Slattery or Daniel Craig wearing a similar garment? Probably not. Do I look well-dressed, affluent, fit? Probably. Is this presentation of self the true image of me on which I want the world to agree? I’m less sure. I know plenty of villains in expensive suits. 

In this vein, I’ve been taking stock of the things I’ve selected for my boards. I’ve begun to wonder what they say about me. Mind you, the process I use to pick these images usually takes around three seconds: like/don’t like. Sometimes I can state exactly why I like something (or don’t). Sometimes, I can’t. Most of the time I don’t think too deeply. I just punch the button one way or the other. 

Something in the way we were raised leads us to prefer certain things over others. The preferences are instantaneous and often enduring — made with very limited information about the thing or person being considered. Frequently, these preferences are so woven into our being that we can’t even articulate them. 

As a social scientist, I have studied a related concept called “implicit bias.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophytells us that “Implicit bias is a term of art referring to relatively unconscious and relatively automatic features of prejudiced judgment and social behavior.”

Researchers at Harvard University have an ongoing project to test implicit bias as it relates to several different preferences. Every fall I have my college students take the test related to race; and then I have them write an essay about their results. Often, they are deeply surprised at what they find. 

I would encourage everyone to give this a try. The link is Project Implicit. It will only take a couple of minutes to complete. I suggest you try several. 

I’ve taken almost all of the tests on the Harvard site. Each one taught me something about myself. Of course, my Pinterest boards also taught me something important: I need to get up from the computer and go experience actual things, not their mere representations.


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