Pinterest is a social-media Web site on which users compile collections of pictures they find on the Internet or just browse the collections of others. Pinterest went online in 2010, and by the end of that year it had 10,000 unique users. By January 2012, that number had increased to 11.7 million, making it the fastest site in history to break through the 10-million unique-visitor mark, according to TechCrunch. For this, it has been valued at $1.5 billion.
The site’s name combines the words “interest” and “pin,” in reference to “pin boards,” which are also known in various creative professions as inspiration boards or mood boards — basically a large board onto which appropriated images (torn from magazines!) are juxtaposed to evoke in the viewer a certain feeling, atmosphere or mood.
Once the exclusive province of advertising art directors, designers and teenage girls in boarding-school dormitories, mood boards and their electronic equivalents have exploded online. Not just on Pinterest, but also in the form of dopamine-boosting street-fashion blogs and cryptically named Tumblr blogs devoted to the wordless and explanation-free juxtaposition of, say, cupcakes and teapots and shoes with shots of starched shirts.
Who knew there was such a large, mainstream market for artfully arranged pictures of other people’s stuff?
Now nearly everyone I know — and by that I mean everyone who spends vast, barren tundras of time at her computer — goes to Web sites like these to escape, destress, perk up, calm down, feel something, not feel something, distract themselves and (they don’t call it “lifestyle pornography” for nothing) modulate pleasure and arousal. A friend of a friend calls his addiction to sites like these “avenues for procrastination,” but I think there’s something else involved. Like other forms of pastiche — the mix tape, the playlist, the mash-up — these sites force you to engage and derive meaning or at least significance or at the very least pleasure from a random grouping of pictures.
Perhaps there’s a neurological component to all this; to the sudden rise of the mood board as mood regulator, a kind of low-dose visual lithium. And have no fear, the new field of neuroaesthetics, which investigates the neural basis for aesthetic experience, is all over it. One theory, for example, holds that if we’re rewarded in choosing one type of aesthetic experience over another, we will learn to respond to the particular characteristics of that experience.
The point is not the thing that is being longed for, but the feeling of longing for the thing. And that feeling is necessarily ambivalent, combining both positive and negative emotions. People don’t post stuff because they wish they owned it, but because they think they are it, and they long to be understood.
Pinterest didn’t create this urge to use visual evocations for little pleasure jolts; in fact, its success lies precisely in being behind the curve. The site’s co-founder, Ben Silbermann, has said that in creating the site, he was just picking up on something people were already doing — i.e., collecting beautiful things and using them as a way to express who they are to the world — and making it easier for them to do it. What the company provides is a clean, well-lighted place to collect found images and share them with others.
Silbermann suggests that collecting online is a form of self-expression for people. He said, "And when we collect things and when we share those collections with people, that’s how we show who we are in the world.”
Source: Carina Chocano, "Being Addicted to Longing for Something," The New York Times Magazine, July 22, 2012