Pinterest: Define Yourself Through Consumerism

I read this neat article about Pinterest Sexism and it reminded me that I should do a blog post about why I find Pinterest somewhat disconcerting after using it a few times over the last month or so.

For starters, I should probably point out that I agree with pretty much everything from the original article. I actually pitched some Pinterest-related stuff to PCWorld back when I was an editor there (I moved over to Game Developer Magazine last week) and got an arched eyebrow and a “don’t mostly women use Pinterest?” Yes, of course–and since PCW’s audience is predominantly old tech geezers, it wasn’t really of interest to anyone.

I liked the idea of Pinterest mostly because I wanted a way to effortlessly share collections of images, mostly for games-related things: favorite tutorial levels, common visual tropes, general eccentricities (the selectbutton.net forums have a great sub forum called Galaxy Oddity which is just devoted to various lists of game related stuff, like Haniwa In Games). So I signed up, got the invite, and made a board of Birds in Video Games, and another one of Pictures of Mike Haggar at www.pinterest.com/pattheflip. I think I probably auto-added most of my Facebook friends on Pinterest, but didn’t pay much attention to that.

Checked back a day or two later and didn’t find much feedback except for the odd “LOL why are you posting pictures of birds?” Now, I’m no stranger to using social networks “the wrong way”–I got on Quora largely to make irreverent answers to too-serious questions and I’m still surprised that people care enough to bug me about it. But when I checked to see what other people were using it for (and by other people, I mean about 30 women compared to 2 men, all from my Facebook list), I mostly saw pictures of stuff broadly defined as Products–stuff for the house, clothes (sometimes modeled), things for upcoming weddings, and so on.

Honestly, the fact that a basically image-only sharing service wasn’t inundated by cats surprised the hell out of me.

Well, what the hell, I’ll give it a go, I thought. So I posted another board called The Essential Tech Collection–basically a list of some of my favorite toys, gadgets, and accessories throughout time. The original iPod is on there, as is the IBM ThinkPad T20 laptop, and the Motorola StarTAC, and the Game Boy Advance SP, and so. Certainly, I can understand the appeal of “curating” a list of products and thinking “I want people to celebrate how awesome my taste is”. However, those pleasant feelings were largely outweighed by hesitation and mild disgust. See, I was entangling those products with my social worth–kind of like a free endorsement, if you will. If you like me, maybe you’ll like this. And if you like this, maybe you’ll like me. on Pinterest, that’s really all I get to say. Words are less important than pictures of nice things and my name next to them. I don’t like that dynamic.

I’m sure that I cannot escape the desire for nice things, and that desire is in part based on how I hope those things will affect how people see me. I am convinced that my Banana Republic sweaterhoodie, Adidas green-and-white messenger bag, and matching Onitsuka Tigers helped get me the new job. My ex-girlfriend told me that my PowerBook G4 12″ made me look sexy. I cannot live outside of capitalism. But the fact that Pinterest is so blunt about how you can define yourself, express hopes for a better self, and relate to your friends through pictures of nice things makes me distinctly uncomfortable.
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4 Responses to Pinterest: Define Yourself Through Consumerism

  1. sarah says:

    pinterest makes me uncomfortable, too. not the consumerism aspect so much, but absolutely the “pressure to define yourself” aspect. i love the idea of an online pinboard, but i’d prefer something that i can have just to myself. no pressure to have pretty pinboards full of awesome things so my facebook friends (which pinterest made me follow, because i clicked the stupid link through fb) will know how amazing my taste/style is.

  2. Well said. I feel pretty much the same way about Pintrest. Not only is it very nakedly consumerist, but that’s actually the main thrust of its appeal to its audience. Sure, there are those who are pinning funny images or beautiful photos and other non-products, but the core users are using it for products. That’s why brands have been *so quick* to get onboard, and why the revenue model for the site is so clear.

    I’ve actually been working on a site called Snip.it that comes at this curation thing from a different angle… instead of tying your self-worth and taste to the things you buy, we’ve made a site where you can define yourself by what content you consume on the internet. Articles, videos, in addition to pretty images. I know this sounds like a shameless plug, but honestly I think Snip.it might appeal to you more than Pintrest, if you care to check it out. :-)

  3. Joey: The fact that Pinterest swaps in their Amazon affiliate links (http://llsocial.com/2012/02/pinterest-modifying-user-submitted-pins/) doesn’t really seem to help their case. I’ll certainly check out Snip.it, if only so I can tell the world I want them to judge me based on my time spent looking at cat pics.

    • Cool! Please forgive us our blemishes (including our less than stellar signup process) – we’ve only been around for a few months, and we’re polishing things as fast as the four of us can. :-)

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