Some things come and go, while some things become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. This week: posting a picture of your car’s dashboard thermometer when it’s really cold outside.

You wake up. You get dressed. You walk to your car—which, for the purposes of this article, is not only parked outside but is parked outside in your building’s parking lot that happens to be a full block away from your building. (Just us?) You get inside. It’s the middle of winter in Milwaukee, and now, before you drive to work, you engage in a time-honored winter tradition: you Warm Up The Car.

But before you do that, you engage in another winter tradition. You glance at your car’s dashboard thermometer. It’s cold outside, you see, and your car’s dim digital dashboard thermometer confirms this. Without thinking, you pull your phone from your pocket and snap a picture of said thermometer. Maybe it reads 1. Maybe it reads 0. Maybe it reads negative-something. It doesn’t matter. It’s really, really cold, and the world must know.

You head over to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and/or Twitter. You post the picture. You write a caption, or you don’t. It’s a winter morning in Milwaukee, it’s really cold outside, and you’ve just posted a picture of your car’s dashboard thermometer. You can begin your day.

Why do we do it? Why do we feel the need to share the fact that, according to our car, it’s cold out there? Surely folks who are already out and about in the morning know this. And the folks Warming Up Their Own Cars? They know this, too. Why record this mundane morning meteorological phenomena? Why broadcast it?

Why indeed. Incredibly, there are those among us who do not appreciate photos of in-car thermometers. “Stop posting pictures of your car’s thermometer and dashboard” reads a decade-old petition. “We know it is hot or cold—we live where you are, we go outside. And we know that every year about this time it is going to get hot or cold, and we deal with it. Please, stop making us look at your car dashboard and acting like it is shocking.”

The long-closed petition had five supporters.

More recently, a California-based blog assembled a “handy guide to posting your dashboard thermometer photos.” “At what temperature should you start posting?” asks the blog. Folks in California are dealing with warm temperatures, of course—into the 100s!–but the dilemma of how and why to post pictures of dashboard thermometers is relevant to cold-weather climes as well.

And who knows: Maybe it’s all wrong?

Here’s the bigger question: Why do we record or broadcast anything? Why not just slouch through our lives and keep our thoughts to ourselves? We do it to form a connection, of course. We do it to reach out into the void and find a flicker of recognition or validation. Is that so wrong? Social media is largely poison, but its ability to bring people together over small and seemingly inconsequential shared experiences is truly a thing to behold. The result may not be much—a nod, a chuckle, a smile, a “like”—but a connection is formed nonetheless.

And in the case of posting a picture of your car’s dashboard thermometer when it’s really cold outside, we do it because it’s already a pre-established Thing. This is “Mandatory Milwaukee,” after all. (Call this one “Mandatory Midwest.”) It’s cold outside, we seem to be saying, and I’m posting a picture of my car’s dashboard thermometer to not only prove that fact, but to see if you, too, are experiencing this cold. It’s cold, isn’t it? Also, isn’t it kind of funny that we’re all doing this?

Yes, it is kind of funny, and yes, it is cold. Thankfully, we’re all in this together. Thankfully, it’ll get warmer soon.

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About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.