“Our normal human tendencies are distraction and dissipation. Too often, we begin one task, then get seduced by some other option, and lose our focus.” - Daniel Pinchbeck
Recently, I have become both intrigued and fascinated with Pinterest. Their growth over the past months has been nothing short of extraordinary. The on-line world has been abuzz over its potential and limitless opportunity. Add in the fact that you can’t spend any significant time with a group of women these days without hearing someone talk about it (even offline)… and you’ve got my attention. So over the past few weeks I have been dabbling into the on-line pinboard.
Thanks to an invite from a friend, I created an account – though my wife uses hers more than I use mine. And I have seen the reason for its enormous popularity. As a result, I have completely embraced it as a traffic-driving website by adding images back into my posts and a Pin-It button at the bottom (ummm, hint-hint). It is as legitimate a social networking site as the others (Twitter, Facebook, Google+)… and growing faster than any of them.
The Benefits of Pinterest
Over the past few weeks of exploring the site (and conducting a number of interviews with users), I have seen the wonderful benefits that Pinterest offers. No doubt their recent growth is because of them:
- Opportunity to “pin” ideas on a virtual pinboard for later reference. The original idea behind the website is a fabulous one. Stumble across a great idea on-line. Pin it (and organize it) with just a few easy clicks to easily find it later when the need arises.
- A filter for the Internet. The Internet is big. As a result, there are tons of helpful articles, recipes, and ideas. But there is also a lot of bad ideas in the exact same space. Taking the time to find the good in the midst of the bad can be a daunting task. Pinterest solves that problem by filtering out the worthless (well, some of it anyway).
- Connect people with similar interests. Enjoy cooking desserts? Shooting photography? Designing interiors? Pinterest offers the opportunity to connect with others (even experts) around the world with similar passions.
- Opportunity to grow in your craft. Many users of Pinterest have used the website to become better at what they do. No matter what your interest/hobby/profession, you can likely find helpful links to inspire and instruct. Teachers, photographers, cooks, and homemakers are growing in their craft. And make no mistake, that’s a great thing for everyone!
- Save money. I have spoken with dozens of women (mostly) concerning their experience on Pinterest. On more than one occasion, it was pointed out to me specifically how an idea found on Pinterest saved them money. These money-saving tips were typically found in Do-It-Yourself remedies, cheap decorative ideas, or recipes that saved money.
- Inspiration. Many of the items found on Pinterest can serve as on-line inspiration for its user. Inspirational quotes and photos are commonplace. Great articles that offer hope can be found on Pinterest (I think to think that’s why some of my posts do so well). Some have even taken this aspect to a whole new level by posting items onto a “Goals” pinboard that promises vacations/experiences/purchases as a reward for accomplishing certain self-improving goals in their lives.
- Brings the family together. I know of many mothers and daughters that have spent time together completing a craft or new recipe found on Pinterest. This even extends to grown daughters who have moved away from home as the platform naturally creates something they have in common with their mothers.
The Inherent Dangers of Pinterest
But I have also seen some unintended consequences among its users that appear unhealthy. And I wanted to raise the awareness level towards them:
- It can be very addictive. This is not new information. Nearly everyone that I spoke to about Pinterest started by saying, “It can be really addictive. Before you know it, you can waste an hour or more just looking at photos and articles.” Obviously, there should be some concern raised over the simple act of wasting time, but the bigger issue centers on the reasons that it becomes so addicting.
- It feeds into our natural tendency to compare our lives with others. Images never tell the whole story… they only tell the story we allow them to tell. And many of the images on Pinterest communicate the story of perfect homes, perfect kids, perfect recipes, perfect body shapes, and perfect outfits. These snapshots in time are not truly representative of the entire story… but we still end up comparing our lives to them and wondering what’s wrong with us.
- It centers our thoughts into a life of fantasy rather than a life of reality. We see stunning photos of a fireplace next to a jet tub overlooking a snow-covered mountain and we can’t help but dream of that reality. But the moment we center our thoughts on that “dream” life, we rob all the joy out of our existing reality. We lose the capacity to fully appreciate all the blessings that surround us when we begin to dream about what we’re missing instead.
- It promotes the pursuit of material possessions. Sometimes intentionally, but mostly unintentionally, Pinterest promotes the pursuit and consumption of material possessions. We see the beautiful photos and desire to own that cute little outfit, perfectly-matched furniture, or one-of-a-kind home decor. Their promises of greater joy in life are pasted all over the screen in front of us. And even if hop on Pinterest for healthy reasons, the subtle messages are unavoidable.
- It becomes easy to confuse “pinning” with “doing.” Pinterest offers incredible opportunity to grow in life and skill. The possibilities are endless… maybe too endless. We discover an idea and discern that it would be fun and worthwhile to pursue. But before we get a chance to start, we discover another and then another and then another… And before too long, we’ve spent the entire time bookmarking exciting new projects but haven’t completed (or even started) any of them. We’d be far better served finding one opportunity and pursuing it with focus and energy before moving onto others.
- It can become a form of unhelpful clutter that robs us of life. The purpose and the layout of Pinterest promotes clutter in our minds. Rarely is anything looked at in a vaccum. Even when we try to isolate one idea, the other images merely fade into the background (not disappear) still calling for us to come back and browse some more. Clutter (physical or mental) always distracts us from joy in the present moment as it calls our attention elsewhere. And Pinterest makes a living providing it.
How to Make the Most of Pinterest
How then does one make use of the medium without falling prey to its unintended consequences?
1. Everything in moderation. Refuse to allow Pinterest to dominate your life. You control it and use it for your benefit… not the other way around. Set a timer. Or choose a time of day (early in the morning, when the kids are at school, etc) that Pinterest won’t distract you from the most important priorities in life.
2. Be mindful. Journey within. The damaging emotions that we have always struggled with still exist, they have just found a new way to surface. Learn to recognize them. Envy, jealousy, selfishness, and unhealthy comparisons have never brought us joy. When you feel them surfacing on Pinterest, turn it off. Get away. And spend some time promoting gratitude.
3. Have a purpose when logging on. If you want to find a new recipe for Tilapia or a fun, inexpensive dessert for your child’s birthday party, Pinterest is a great place to look. If you want to grow in your craft, Pinterest likely offers a number of helpful articles. But if you have a purpose, stay focused. Don’t fall into the temptation to browse other topics. And use the search option to limit mindless browsing.
4. Follow people who add value. The value of Pinterest (just like every other social networking site) is found in the people you follow. If someone is clogging your stream with unhelpful (or unhealthy) links, don’t hesitate to unfollow.
5. Keep in mind that not every one on Pinterest is pure in heart. Pinterest has grown quickly. People are hanging out there. And wherever people are hanging out, entrepreneurs will use it to make money (always!). You may not think you’re seeing paid advertisements when you log onto Pinterest, but you are. Keep that in mind. Some of the posts are intentionally designed to get your money… be warned.
By all means, embrace Pinterest. Enjoy it. Improve your life through it. But doing so in a mindful manner, will keep you from unintentionally pinning unhealthy habits in your heart while you do.