Everything Is Aspirational

With each passing year I’m finding it easier to opt out of “favorites season,” that stretch between late December and about hour three of the Oscars broadcast (when people realize they’ve lost the pool and stop caring) during which every seventh blog post I see is a top-ten list and suddenly even the guy who wears cut-off sweatpants and sells me pretzels is a Japandroids fan. I would just assume this is because I’ve alienated everyone enough that my opinions are no longer being solicited (my reputation has never really fully recovered from the locally infamous stance I took on Toy Story 3), but based on a small sampling of feedback from peers, it seems that none of the purportedly authoritarian missives filling up my RSS feed are being solicited. Most of us aren’t all that interested in which young adult sci-fi novels published in 2012 were favored by the staff of the Weather Channel, but we certainly seem inclined — compelled — to share our own choices.

I haven’t felt that compulsion this year (or maybe I’m just too embarrassed to admit that my favorite movie from 2012 was Prometheus), and yet I still find myself presently ensnared in the psychological complexity of the favoriting process.


For reasons that are too elusive to even attempt addressing, I recently decided to pare down the number of photos I carry around with me on my phone. For the last few years that number has stretched across four digits, comprised of whole albums imported from my iPhoto library for the sake of convenience. Who would choose to manually sift through all of the photos they’ve collected in the decade or more since digital cameras became prominent and filter out their favorites? 

I would. I am, and the process of doing so, while obviously rewarding in a memory-lane sort of way, has revealed things about myself that were likely always present in my past years of robust favorite-picking but which are only now becoming evident. 

In that Timothy Hoover quote I posted the other day, he says of internet sharing:

We edit and design ourselves to be perceived as the people we hope to be.

As I’ve discovered since I began cherry-picking my photos, I’m afflicted by this phenomenon in ways that go beyond status updates and ostentatious Foursquare check-ins. For the most part the photos on my phone exist there strictly for my own personal enjoyment. Apart from the occasional pass to a friend across the table to show off a recent capture of bad grammar on some pithy church sign, no one looks at my photos but me, and I’ve already seen them many times.

So why is it that of all the photos in my library, the ones I’ve selected to port with me all remind me of magazine spreads or movie props instead of the kinds of awkward but meaningful snapshots that others cling to? Why have I gravitated toward moments rather than milestones; obscured faces over smiling portraits; desolate widescreen vistas in place of crowded family dinner tables? Am I a bad archivist? Does my appreciation of photography start and end in an Urban Outfitters catalog?

Or am I projecting even in this relatively inconsequential task, trying to define the “best of” me as the person I want to be rather than the person I’ve been?