Milestones make us reflective. The “homo economicus,” a figurative human that is only interested in purely rational action would say that January 1 and December 31 are no more different from each other than May 12 and May 13. The digit at the end of the year shouldn’t make a difference – but it does. Thankfully, we’re irrational creatures by nature.
This month, where that digit is about to change, represents a time of year when we collectively look back and look forward. We look at our balance sheets and portfolios to see how we’ve done. We look at our habits and behaviors to see who we’ve been. We look around to see what everybody else has done or made, and what we might have missed. And, at the very end, we spend a little bit of time looking into the next year.
The most viral version of this over the past few years has been the annual Spotify Wrapped summary that just landed in everybody’s apps. If you popped open Instagram the other day, every second story from your friends likely included screenshots of their wraps – often annotated with the same handful of comments, “sounds about right,” “yeah, that’s me,” “very on-brand.” Spotify has been releasing these compilations since 2016, and each year the anticipation grows and grows and grows.
Internet urban legend says that the streamer stops tracking your listening at the end of October to prepare for the campaign – and you’ll see lots of tongue-in-cheek reminders on social media about getting your listening habits adjusted in the final weeks to ensure you have a hip summary. Though it appears that Spotify busted that myth this year, so who knows.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The only thing that we end on Halloween is eating candy corn. Stream (and snack) all through the year and we will see you in Wrapped season.</p>— Spotify (@Spotify) <a href="https://twitter.com/Spotify/status/1580636504963002368?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 13, 2022</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
The success of this program has inspired other platforms to create sharable summaries as well. Apple Music and YouTube Music both released their versions of the same concept – though they were often made fun of by self-declared “cooler” Spotify users. Peloton has “The Cooldown,” looking back at the exercise behaviors for its members. Meta’s Facebook and Instagram have previously released “Year in Review” features, alongside similar items from Reddit, Snapchat, and others.
Moving from personalized to mass media, this is also the time that many groups share “best of” lists looking back at their areas of interest. The New York Times Book Review has been in the business of naming the year’s best books since 1896. GoodReads is asking its users to vote on their selections of the same. Movie theaters are full of Oscar-bait, many of which are on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the year’s best films. AP is showcasing the year’s top photos. Apple just named its best apps.
These lists are so attractive because help us organize a chaotic world full of too many options. Countless thousands of books, movies, albums, and apps have been released this year, and relying on these “top” lists helps us cut down on the choices. It’s how we deal with the “Paradox of Choice.”
Soon, often come December 26, our attention will shift to the year ahead. Resolutions will be resolved, plans will be planned, and predictions will be predicted. Just in the past couple days, we’ve seen Pantone set the trend with its 2023 Color of the Year, “Viva Magenta.” Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, Behr, and every other company in the business of color has their own. McCormick, the seasonings brand, will even tell us the flavor of the year.
The world is big and time is long. These lists, summaries, and predictions help us make sense of it all.