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Pinterest as an expression of digital materialism

By March 6, 2012Opinion

Imagine getting to do window shopping of all the best and most creative things in the world without having to go to the mall. That’s what Pinterest is – Tuhin Kumar

Pinterest has been a fascinating new toy to witness in the past few months with over 11+ million users and growing. Comscore reports it is the website that users are spending increasing more time on to rival  the likes of the big five – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Linkedin and Google +. Users are spending 98 minutes a month on Pinterest, compared with two and a half hours on Tumblr, and seven hours on Facebook. Last but not least to add to Pinterest’s ego boost is that it is playing an increasingly important role for brands by driving huge traffic numbers back to brand properties, beating out the big five listed above.

But why the sudden big spike in interest? Is this same kind of new 2.0 witchcraft that the big five wish they themselves were able to harness? The best way to answer this sensibly is to look at the habits that humans have acquired since the days of prehistory – that of being a hunter and collector. What Pinterest has done is connect deeply with an individual’s “I am” instinct as a representation of who or what you want be.

We are collectors

As humans, we are born to hunt and collect and, after collecting, it is natural to want to show off your acquisitions. Two examples from my upbringing are the head hunters of Borneo and my dad. My birthplace in the Malaysian state of Sarawak (on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo) is known for its indigenous people who were once collected the heads of enemies they have killed. It is a sign of tribal status. The more heads you collect, the higher your rank. While my dad was never a headhunter, he is known in my family as a classic hoarder. He collects antiques – anything ranging from the old brick cell phones to old porcelain. Everytime he acquires something, he proudly shows it off and tells a long story of how he obtained it.

These are quite extreme examples of the instinct to collect. Pinterest has taken that deeply engrained part of human nature and created the perfect platform to “collect” without having to build an extra garage in your backyard.


The mirror of YOU

Pinterest is a 21st Century mirror. It’s a mirror in which can take you to a different world where you can be yourself or someone you aspire to be. It is almost like your never-ending personal collage or vision board. Pinterest has created a platform that promotes ‘digital materialism’.

Many would argue that Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr help us express our real selves as well but these deal more in status updates about news and events. The rise of Pinterest has captured a desire to convey a sense of style and individuality to a wider audience. This could be one reason why it has become a big hit among the women who currently occupy 97.9% of its user base.

Hence the quote by Tuhin Kumar: “Imagine getting to do window shopping of all the best and most creative things in the world without having to go to the mall.”


Pinning might save you from mortgaging your house for that BMW

In an interesting article by Barry Schwartz in the Daily Beast entitled Consumption Makes Us Sad? Science Says We Can Be Happy With Less, he tells us we are happier if we share more and if we do so, the urge to purchase goes away.

“The higher a person’s income is, the bigger the disparity between the joys of doing and the joys of having. The pleasures associated with our own acts of consumption tend to be short-lived whereas the pleasures derived from doing something for others linger.

Now, we all know people who “are what they own.” But there is reliable research indicating that people who are like that – people who have what we might call materialist values – are less satisfied with their lives than people who don’t.

And the big things that we as individuals can do centre on reminding ourselves of what is really important and satisfying in our lives, and aiming to achieve those things instead of a Mercedes in our driveways.”

If what Schwartz is saying is right, Pinterest could essentially become a rehab tool for the most materialistic person.


It will be interesting to see how Pinterest evolves in the months ahead but one thing is for certain. There are not many social sites that can say they truly define a user’s perception of themselves. I would love to know from you about how you use Pinterest and what sort of picture does it paint of yourself?


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