The internet isn’t always a pleasant place to be. Sometimes it can feel as though logging on is less about having fun or sharing experiences, and more akin to being crouched in a muddy trench as bullets whistle overhead.
When it works well, however, the internet can provide spaces for our passions and interests to flourish – fostering a genuine sense of connection and community. After all, one of the original and most magical aspects of our digital age was that, whoever you were, you could find like-minded people who shared your joys and passions – whether you were into maths, rock, wild swimming or Twin Peaks.
Recapturing that original magic often requires a conscious effort to avoid the all-too-familiar downside of getting sucked into polarising conflicts or pointless distraction. A useful guiding principle here is to let yourself be led by your curiosity and to seek inspiration – making a deliberate decision to learn, grow and create. It’s not social media you need so much as personal media that responds to and reflects your true self.
This is arguably one reason for the enduring popularity of Pinterest. Users can create digital boards on any subject imaginable by saving images and articles found across the web and sharing their inspirations and ideas with others. They can also watch videos of inspiring ideas produced by creators on Pinterest.
“It’s the first place that I go to brainstorm any idea visually,” says Sara Tasker, a creative business coach who lives in North Yorkshire. “I Pin pictures that capture the mood or the vibe of what I want because I haven’t found words to articulate it,” she says. “I’m a linguist at heart, but sometimes words don’t quite do the same job.”
This simple act of collecting and saving can be incredibly powerful. The boards people curate on the platform can help them to identify the indescribable. And by drawing together ideas and inspiration, we can forge a deeper understanding of ourselves.
Ian R Mull, a lecturer in fashion and interior design at Central Michigan University, has published work on how Pinterest helps students to learn through “virtual exploration”. “It’s a lot easier to show what we’re interested in, versus saying it,” he says. “We found that with this idea of ‘virtual exploration’, Pinterest allows people to really explore all kinds of different visual imagery.”
Dr Rebecca Williams, a senior lecturer in communication culture and media studies at the University of South Wales, says that saving Pins can help us communicate things about ourselves clearly and efficiently. “Very quickly, people can get a sense of what it is that you’re trying to say about your identity,” she says. “People choose their images or what they share on Pinterest very carefully. So there’s a selection process that happens about what idea about yourself or your profile you want to put forward.”
That said, saving Pins is not about putting on a performance for your friends and followers. After all, users are often curating their boards primarily for themselves. You could argue that this makes our “Pinterest selves” somewhat more authentic.
As well as helping us know ourselves better, it can also be a way to grow our passions and interests. Tasker thinks the platform has been a perfect tool for refining her tastes. “If you’re a creator of any kind, it really does have an impact on how you create work in the world,” she says. “It feels like there’s a way of creating order out of all the inspiration in the world, and I really like that.”
Creators on Pinterest tend to be ideas-orientated people who use the platform to both build and showcase their expertise in their field. To that end, it helps that Pinterest isn’t about fleeting experiences, but instead can serve as a more permanent home for evergreen content. “Every time elderflowers are in bloom, a recipe that I put up years ago resurfaces,” says Tasker.
The benefits of being able to post enduring, evergreen content is highlighted by other creatives who use Pinterest. Wendy Asumadu, a makeup artist from north London, has been using Pinterest to showcase her bright and colourful experimental designs that are inspired by abstract art. “As a content creator, you have a chance to be seen no matter when you post,” she says. “As long as people are searching for the type of content you’re producing you’re going to have constant visibility. So I find that you can go at any pace you want – there’s not an always-on schedule that you have with other platforms.”
She also points out that because people search for themes rather than for user handles, she doesn’t have to focus on just makeup and can post other things that inspire her. “I feel like I’m able to post a mixture of content, not just my niche, and that’s not going to impact my views. So you can really be yourself authentically on Pinterest.”
The ability to more fully explore our personalities and identities is something that Dr Bertha Chin, who researches social media at Swinburne University in Sarawak, Malaysia, has seen in her own hobbyist niche, the fanfiction community. “[Writers] will create a [board] for their characters,” she says. “What sort of houses would they live in? And then they’ll Pin photos there. What kind of wardrobe would they have? It’s a very different and very visual way of exploring the characters.”
Others highlight a sense of agency as well as authenticity. While using Pinterest can help our interests and passions evolve, that doesn’t mean we’re left at the mercy of algorithms that determine what we should see and interact with. “[Other] platforms are crafting for us what it is we want to see,” says Mull. “Whereas I think with Pinterest ... it is a little bit more self-motivated.”
That sense of agency can be very important for Pinners and creators such as Tasker. “I don’t think Pinterest has shaped my taste, I think I have actively gone in there and found the things that match my taste,” she says. “I have more control over what I see there and I’m able to curate exactly the experience I want.”
To find out more about Pinterest’s diverse audience check out their Inspiration Nation study: business.pinterest.com/inspirationnation