Is Pinterest Bad for You?

25 Feb

Pinterest: 10,000 things you never knew you needed, until now.

Ever since a colleague urged me to visit Pinterest.com last year, I’ve had a growing curiosity about the site. Basically, what’s the deal with Pinterest, and what makes it so wildly popular? Do boys ever use it? What’s with the invitation-style registration process? Is this site just another way to boost consumption in America? Does it discourage people from actually creating anything on their own? Read on for the scoop.

Social Media’s got a New Prom Queen

For those of you who have yet to pay your respect, here’s a paraphrased version: If social media were a male brothel, Pinterest would be everbody’s new favorite, fresh-faced playboy. The site is used, in short, for photo sharing, allowing users to create theme-based image collections. And all with an appearance yet untarnished by the typical advertising and calculated marketing blemishes that permeate other social media sites.

In 2011, Pinterest established itself as one of the top 10 social networks IN THE WORLD (wow, I know), with 11 million total visits per week.

Some have rightly wondered, Aren’t there already sites, such as Delicious.com, that do the same thing? Yes, there are other bookmarking sites whose offerings are similar. But, unlike Pinterest, these predecessors have passed on to the digital afterlife. So why Pinterest?

Some point to the site’s visual appeal as a major selling point. Unlike other sites, such as Facebook, which encourage the exchange of original written content as well as other types of media, Pinterest exclusively promotes what experts are referring to as “social content curation.”

In laymen’s terms, people are finding the original content of other people and sites, and posting it on their own walls and boards to foster their own personal online brand.

How Pinterest Makes Most of Us Lazy and Uncreative

In an article titled “you are what you curate: why pinterest is hawt” from gigaom.com, serial technology entrepreneur Elad Gill writes,

“2012 will likely see an acceleration of structured, push button, social curation across the web. Why? Because most users don’t want to take much effort to produce content, and consuming content in a structured manner (especially photos) is much faster. Just as the first wave of social media has transformed the consumption of information, this next wave of social curation will fundamentally change how users find and interact with content over time.”

I would like to suggest that the key takeaways from Gill’s quote are as follows: Pinterest is popular because most of us are lazy internet users who don’t want to take the time to create original content. We also want to waste as little time as possible scanning sites for other people’s ideas that we can then amass in a way that makes our online selves appear original and full of ideas.

In the same article, the writer Om Malik points to Pinterest’s popularity as a type of new-age collage. Just as you would clip images out of magazines as a child and glue them to a cover or page with Elmer’s glue, you now look for images and links online that make you, as Malik describes, “feel very cool, because being able to create an awesome, colorful collage” allows you to “show something about yourself.”

Have You Checked out Her Boards?—She’s SO Pinteresting!

This desire to express ourselves and demonstrate our original identity online is part of a larger social trend referred to as “hyperpersonalization”.  Malik explains that “we are all living in a society that is so homogenized that it is hard to stand out.”

Due to the mass-produced world of stuff around us, we have begun searching for a way to gain distinction from the masses. This theory naturally extend to the online world. To appear original, we carefully curate an online image of ourselves using social networks like pinterest.

But does posting a link with someone else’s art or image to Pinterest actually make me unique? I would like to suggest that the “uniqueness” promoted by Pinterest is actually a superficial sense of uniques—a false sense of self that discourages individuals from actually creating anything themselves. Why bother, when it’s so easy to appear unique by simply pushing a button I’ve installed on my bookmarks bar that will add another awesome idea or photo to my pinterest board?

Pinterest is Secretly about Purchases

Despite the lack of direct advertisements, according to mashable.com, Pinterest drives more referral traffic to retailers than Linkedin, Youtube, and Google+ combined. And, according to the Atlantic, up until recently, the site was using a little-known service called “SkimLinks” to make an earning off of these referrals. As the Atlantic explains, “SkimLinks’ software looks at links users post to websites, determines if there is an affiliate program to which they can be linked, and appends a code that ensures Pinterest gets credit for (and data from) the referral.”

This means that retailers and other business (DUH) have been making mucho dinero off of our online fake personality curation. I would even go so far as to suggest that visiting Pinterest often gives me a guilty sense of pleasure similar to reading a fashion magazine or visiting marthastewart.com.  Which brings me, appropriately, to my next section:

Where the Men at on Pinterest?

One fascinating aspect of Pinterest is its mainly female user population. According to the Wall Street Journal, roughly 68% of users are women, and many are in the Midwest. This female-heavy popularity is reflected in the site’s interaction with facebook, with 97% of the Pinterest’s facebook “likes” being made by women.

Considering the fact that the site has reached the 10 million unique users mark faster than any other social network before it, it’s rather astounding to consider that the great majority of these users are women. These findings, no doubt, have begun to shape the way that marketing departments think about female consumers and the role they play in the online market.

But why don’t men like it? The site heuge.com published an article, titled “Pinterest Hates Men”, that went so far as to suggest that the site has been created with a specific target user (women) and that it doesn’t aim to hook men. The article’s author, Eugene Hsu, defends the claim with the observation that the site self-identifies itself as a site aimed solely at women. It’s “About” section reading:

Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes.”

The site, it appears, mainly promotes the type of images and subjects the likes of which you would typically see in a girly magazine. This is not, however, to say that the site could not be used for more.

But is the way the site is used, and the type of people using it, likely to change?

Weigh in with your opinion.

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14 Responses to “Is Pinterest Bad for You?”

  1. Born This Way Tour Australia March 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    An amazing article, thanks for the writing.

  2. Denise April 21, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    I’m only peripherally aware of Pinterest, but I have so many of the same feelings/misgivings about it as you do. Especially the idea that it’s ‘creative,’ when in actuality it’s collecting other people’s creations in place of forming your own.

  3. Karen July 12, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    I agree. I started to use it two weeks ago as a way to get ideas for my kitchen and found myself feeling even more lousy about, well, … how lousy my kitchen is. I’m frozen…I will NEVER be able to make my kitchen look even remotely like any of those images. THEN, I started getting emails with “Look who’s following your board!” Delete, delete, delete. This must be part of feeling popular. Now I’m going to figure out how to get out of it. I hope it’s not as hard as FACEBOOk.

    • McKenzie M July 12, 2013 at 2:11 am #

      K,
      I love your take on Pinterest, and I believe in the future of your kitchen–with or without social media! I absolutely agree that Pinterest sets the bar way too high–like, professional level. For me, just as with most social media, Pinterest is a guilty ego-booster that often leaves me feeling worse than before. When people re-pin your pins or follow your boards it validates your taste, but in this really hollow way. And any of my do this pins–the ones where it’s something that I want myself to do in the future–just end up making me feel like I have more to achieve! Why do we do this to ourselves?

  4. lotusgreen October 29, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    I’m quite late to this conversation but I’m also quite new to Pinterest, addicted immediately, but the longer I play there, the more concerning it becomes. You have added many additional motives to my concerns that I’d come upon myself, so thank you.

    I’d like to add (and my order is likely meaningless):

    1. I think a big draw, perhaps why women are represented at such high rates, is that it gives the user the illusion of creating order and meaning where none existed. Despite decades of feminism, women are still, perhaps increasingly so, powerless. This creates the illusion that they (we) are not,

    2. The “unique” self-identity one creates on Pinterest is rarely experienced by anyone. What I’ve discovered are several things: most people who come across your work do so by a single narrow search. The person has not been intrigued by the the title of your board, nor by its juxtaposition to your other boards, nor even by the clever connections between the items in a given board. They are searching for “posters,” and find one of your posters, and then pin it to their board, and likely has never even visited your board or your page at all.

    3. In fact, Pinterest is like a silent room, no explanation, instruction, reaction, or presentation, no related quotes or poetry, little to no context. It is instructional, of what I’m not sure, that people have rushed from blogging to pinning with such alacrity. Thoughts are so much more time-consuming and troublesome; we all have learned from messages surrounding us that you only have one chance to make a first impression. In our instantaneous times, we’ve come to believe that nothing that takes more than a glance is worth learning, worth experiencing, or even worth sharing from one’s own heart.

    4. It should be called an anti-social network, in that there is almost no back and forth whatsoever. No comments. No communication. No nothing. This is social??!

  5. lotusgreen October 30, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    On the other hand, perhaps this is all no different from “real life.” We live in houses or apartments “decorated” with other people’s ideas, whether it’s torn from a magazine, found online, or maybe a decorator… We cook other people’s recipes. However much time we put into these efforts to individualize, it’s often only for the handful of people who might visit, or maybe for just an audience of one. So we do it for ourselves, really, just as we do Pinterest.

    • McKenzie M October 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

      lotus,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! I completely agree that there’s nothing social about pinterest. A bit of time has passed since I wrote this article, and your comments have helped me to realize the slow shift in the way that I think about and use the site. Instead of thinking of pinterest as a place to share ideas with people I know, I now use it almost exclusively as a search engine, like google or bing. I’ll use it to find ideas for anything from infographics and website design to dinner recipes and diy projects. As you said, people are searching for something specific and visual results can be easier to sift through.

      When it comes to posting, I think you’re right on with your suggestion that we do it for ourselves. I’ve heard that we get part of the good feeling of exercising, taking care of a project, or being productive from simply making a plan to do it. This means that when I pin a great new idea to a board for organizing or cooking or living healthy, I can feel a sense of relief or happiness almost as it I’d actually done it.

      • lotusgreen October 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

        Ok — you just made me laugh out loud. It’s like watching an exercise tape making you feel almost as virtuous as actually getting off your chair and moving with it.

        & yeah — I can’t say I haven’t found repeated value there. One thing…. I published a literary & arts magazine for 15 years, and did a heavily illustrated art history blog, and in both cases went around a fair amount of time pissed or depressed that someone had “stolen” my images. Pinterest has cured me of this. For this alone, banishment of the ethic of copyright, when this stuff isn’t your own work anyway, is a liberating valuable feature that is fitting to how life is now, as opposed to when shortages of information was the norm.

        & I too find it a really cool search engine/ teacher. etc. I find that my taste, for decades centered around the year 1900, is expanding; I’m discovering new artists, that I *love*….

        It’s also relaxing and probably a better escapist means than most TV (though probably gardening is even better). So while I continue to try to understand what exactly this newly skewed reality trend *means* (like they used to try to figure out what the hippie movement *meant*) I’ll still play.

        I’m really glad you responded. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

        Lily

        • MvL May 5, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

          Gardening is infinitely better, but who owns a garden these days? On pinterests we get gardens in all shapes and forms from every corner on earth to ‘look at’; no dirty fingers (or green ones) allowed

  6. lotusgreen May 6, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

    :^) I have a garden.

    So interesting to re-read all of this after such a long time. I have developed a new use for Pinterest, which is pretty much my only use for it now: It’s my scrapbook. Say I come across a glass bowl from 1902 in an auction catalogue, and it’s knock-your-socks-off beautiful. I don’t want to “throw it away,” even if I never look at it again, I want to save it. Well wha-do-you-know! I’ve got a scrapbook which uses none of my own disc space, and is already organized into categories!

    • McKenzie M May 7, 2015 at 8:21 am #

      What a creative use! It’s hard figuring out what to do with all those pages and clippings

      • lotusgreen May 7, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

        Indeed! May I ask you– I actually wonder about you sometimes. What has happened with your career/work stuff. I’ll bet it’s interesting. I hope so!

        • McKenzie M June 26, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

          Lotus,

          Still writing — now for a consumer goods company here in the midwest. Having a great time developing brands, new products, web goodness. Thanks for your readership and kinds words of encouragement! Hope you’re well

  7. Sandy Murphey -Northern CA, USA June 25, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    Looking at beautiful images that I might otherwise not see makes it worthwhile to me. I can see a unique flower, fish, bridge, tree, animal, sunset, and almost anything in the world is available to my eyes. I delight in visuals….I’m a photographer!

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