Pinterest revealed itself to me much like the popular-girls club that convened around the make-out rock at recess: elusive and invitation only. The friends who mentioned using Pinterest were girls who spent hard time on the internet—the same girls who casually slipped verbs like tweet into every day conversation. I knew little about it other than that it was a domain where people I knew had discovered DIY crafty ways to reorganize their lives. Baby mobiles made out of Tolstoy novels, that kind of thing.
I didn’t beg for an invite. Pinterest sounded enticing in the same way of a new neighborhood bakery: a doorway to temptation. Life seemed to grow increasingly cluttered as the list of logins and bookmarks and security questions compiled, and I already worried about spending too much time admiring others’ ideas rather than executing my own. But actively creative people I knew and trusted seemed to place their faith in this pinning universe, so when I was offered an invite, I accepted.
Pinterest greeted me with the aesthetic sensibility of an IKEA catalog. The design is smart and simple: vertical stacks of photos mounted like polaroids floating in a digital white nether land. The photos themselves are an organized mess, but the white somehow makes everything look neat and inviting and easy.
I connected with my online friends and studied their pinning habits: recipes for vegan fudgsicles, bookshelves built out of anything you can get your hands on, huge exotic bodies of water reflecting foreign skies, handbags far outside a normal human’s price range, cute dresses floating on invisible mannequins, and lots and lots of mason jars. Some of the pins offered inspiring ideas; most seemed to scream: THINGS I COVET THAT I CANNOT OBTAIN FOR FINANCIAL AND/OR TEMPORAL REASONS.
I wasn’t sure where to start so I pinned the book I was reading at the time. Then I pinned an article my friend had just published, the trailer for movie I reviewed, the website of an organization I volunteer for. I went the way of the nerdy pinner whose choices suggest: Look at this neat [noun] I read/watched/absorbed/experienced/admired! My pins were mostly objects of intellectual consumption. I sought to share the joy of knowledge.
I also sought to intellectualize an internet experience that felt entirely indulgent. Pinterest induced my internet guilt in the worst way. Its white scroll functioned more like a black hole, pulling me in and erasing any time I might have used to create all the crafty ideas reflecting off my glossy pupils. I retaliated by being the most boring pinner ever. Read this book. Check out this nonprofit. This morning I pinned a link to an article in BITCH magazine about how Pinterest reinforces gender stereotypes and added the caption: “Read an article about this thing you’re doing right now.” My pinning habits are equally as self-indulgent, if not more so, than the average pinner; I use the site like a headboard, carving a notch for every cultural product I consume.
Pinterest could be a great platform for sharing ideas, but I worry it has become a place where futile desires go to die. Sometimes the Pinterest experience recalls the image of a child with her face pressed against a shop window, gawking at all the lovely things out of her reach. The website describes itself as a place that “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” Beautiful things are often those we admire and have little hope of attaining: a house made of glass in the woods, a Givenchy gown from the 1950s, the time to bake and decorate cupcakes to look like old fashioned hamburgers.
Perhaps I was mislead. Perhaps Pinterest is meant to be more of a wishing well than a leave-a-penny-take-a-penny dish. There is no harm in a collection of beautiful things. Maybe every Pinterest account is actually a personal web museum that compiles our unique palates into a carefully catalogued album of objects on white, on white. In the end it may neither be a place for things we want or things that inspire us, but simply things we think are wonderful.