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CALL FOR ENTRIES: New Project Launching This Summer

After my upcoming departure from Uni Watch, I’ll be taking a bit of time off, and then my Substack will relaunch later this summer under the name Inconspicuous Consumption.

One component of the relaunched Substack will be a new project called “Favorite Thing.” As its name suggests, it will be about people’s treasured possessions, and the stories behind them (sort of like my old Key Ring Chronicles project, but not quite as niche-y.)

What I’m looking for here is a specific physical object, not a broad category or an activity. So if your “favorite thing” is coffee, or driving, or cats, or a hot bath at the end of a long day, those would not qualify. As many of you know, I reallyreallyreally love the Brannock Device (that gizmo they use to measure your shoe size), but even that would not qualify, unless I singled out one specific Brannock Device.

My tentative plan is to conduct short Zoom interviews with people about their favorite objects and then publish the interview transcripts (not the audio or video). “Favorite Thing” will be one of several recurring components of this Substack.

If you have a special object of personal significance and would like to participate in this project, please email me. (You can also leave a comment on this post if you want, but don’t assume that I’ll see it. Email is the best way.)  I’ll get back to you soon-ish, probably sometime in June. Thanks!

Comments (15)

    I thought of you the other day regarding your admiration for the Brannock Device. I am considering buying a couple to have on hand at the high school that I work at. I exclusively teach immigrants. Many arrive with shoes that don’t fit and have no clue what their true shoe size is. Right now, my wife and I take them to a dedicated shoe store to have their feet measured. I am thinking it would be nice to measure their feet at the school. So, yeah, I immediately thought of your Brannock Device writing. It is a good vocabulary word… better than “foot measurer for shoes thing.”

    Haven’t had my feet measured with a Brannock Device since the late 70’s/early 80’s. I guess because my feet were growing all the time as a youngster, my Mom wanted to make sure I was getting the right size shoe. :)

    Paul, are you talking about a favorite singular item or a collection of a specific item?

    The idea reminds me of Donald Norman thesis about why we like the objects that we like. He summarized in the idea of “emotional design”, which is formed by three levelsthat call to us (consumers): visceral, behavorial, and reflective.

    I have a couple ideas and would participate, but that email link does not work for me. Is there another way to get the email?

    Thanks Paul, but that’s the same link and does not work for me. It asks for a password,, which i do not have. You can email me, which I provided.

    And now “You’re My Favorite Thing” by the Replacements is playing in my head. Nice!

    When I first saw Paul post regarding this on social media, it got me thinking. I have a hard time with “favorite thing.” As in, I have a hard time picking one thing from any set of possible things. This also plays out at restaurants; I’m much happier with a prix-fix or very small menu than a large menu where I have to choose from among many options. Whereas I have an easy time making top-n lists. I’ve been told that choosing a favorite is easy: Just make your top-five list and choose the one ranked first. But the point of a top-n list for me is that I don’t have to rank within the list. Sure, I can arbitrarily put one first, one fifth, but for the most part that’s an artificial abstraction for me.

    So while I’ve been able to think of a short list of favorite things, I just can’t name one as my favorite thing. My short list would include:

    A souvenir miniature cannon in iron and brass from an Arkansas Civil War battlefield that my pre-K daycare provider gave me when I “graduated” from daycare to school;
    A novelty LP of Dixieland-style jazz Christmas music that was my favorite of my dad’s albums as a tiny kid;
    Particular copies of a few books. Like, any copy of “Leaves of Grass” is a copy of “Leaves of Grass,” but this one particular 1980s Modern Library edition is the one I held in my hands and read from when I fell in love with Whitman’s poetry;
    A cast-iron skillet that was just about the only pot in my “furnished” kitchen in Amsterdam in the early aughts. I really matured as a cook using that pot in that kitchen, and to this day it’s my default go-to cooking vessel for stovetop or oven;
    A Roman-style white plaster bust of Bill Clinton, with its nose cracked off Sphinx-style. I went to DC for college in fall 1992, and this ’93 inaugural souvenir carries a lot of the flavor of the times for me.

    Are any of these the one thing I’d wish to grab if fleeing a housefire? Probably not. But I take a utilitarian view of such a question – keys, wallet, dog, shoes – but if I were to be sentimental about it, there’s a family photo from the late 1970s that’s conveniently near the front door that would be my grab-and-go. Anyway, point being that while the five things listed above would probably be my honest top-five favorite things list, I couldn’t honestly claim any one of them is my individual favorite thing.

    I assumed – I was just ruminating on the difficulty of “favorite” as a concept for me. I’m just temperamentally unable to choose one thing. I’m great at making lists; I’m rubbish at committing to a single choice.

    Can it be two closely related things? I’m thinking about emailing you about my pillow and pillowcase, but I’m not sure which one is the Jordan and which one is the Pippen.

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