Stick a pin in me…

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. 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 as the social media service, Pinterest. With a Pinterest account one can troll through millions 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? How about assault rifles? Classic cars? Travel? Cooking? Witty aphorisms? Cute puppies? 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 being the exception @drmatthewpate) I have come to like Pinterest. I have several “boards” onto which I have pinned images that please me.

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 were things go until I recognize that I have 48 pictures of cats sleeping on teapots and move them to their own dedicated board.

What does all this get me? Not a lot directly, but I do many things that require a strong aesthetic sense. Often these images provide a mental sourdough starter for actual real-world projects. Think of it as a magazine that you assemble for yourself.

Lately, I’ve been taking stock of the things I’ve selected. 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.

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

Something in the way we were raised leads us to prefer certain things over others. Often these preferences are so woven into our being that we can’t even articulate them. The folks 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 (

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 outside more often.

— Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive and a current Senior Research Fellow with the Violence Research Group. Follow him on Twitter @drmatthewpate