I’ve found that anytime I quit one social media platform, another rushes in to fill the vacuum.
As soon as I stepped back from Facebook, Pinterest was ready to lay claim to all my newly-liberated time. I was a late adopter (I even wrote a column in our college newspaper about my failings as a DIYer), but it didn’t take long for me to get swept up in it. Pinterest, however, posed a much different problem for me than other platforms had. If Facebook had been a stand-in for real friendship and connection, then Pinterest was my stand-in for inspiration and creativity.
On Pinterest, I found process of curating images completely engrossing. I could do it for hours on end, dreaming of the person those boards said I could be: my bright white home, my perfect hand-lettering, my breathtaking vacations and my closet full of outfits that would make me look Parisian. I loved imagining what my life had the potential to look like.
What I realized, though, was that Pinterest was a straw man: what felt like creativity was actually keeping me from actually making something original. What seemed like productivity kept me from using time in a way that refreshed my soul and reconnected me with the things I truly found inspiring. Pinterest gave me the feeling of having accomplished something (“Look how good I am at curating beautiful things!”) without challenging me to switch off the screen and make beautiful things myself.
A quote from Hamlet’s Blackberry, one of my favorite books on the subject of our digital connectedness, captures my experience well. The author talks about how the internet has turned into an echo chamber of everyone else’s thoughts — often, at the expense of your own:
“A decade ago, the digital space was heralded for the endless opportunities it offered for individual expression. The question now is how truly individual—as in bold, original, unique—you can be if you never step back from the crowd.”
The author’s point, that the internet runs the risk of annihilating rather than encouraging our individuality, stuck out to me. I began to understand that the endless algorithmic flow of images on Pinterest, while beautiful, was limiting my range of thought. I needed space from everyone else’s ideas in order to bring my own to life.
I knew the clandestine feeling of stumbling across something truly inspiring: those moments when you are going about your day-to-day and you happen upon something that strikes a chord deep in your soul in a way that feels transcendent and moves you to create. Having been lucky enough to experience this many times in my life, I know that it rarely happens in front of a screen.
This author call those moments “thin places.” Elizabeth Gilbert, in one of my all-time favorite TED Talks, calls it a visit from your fickle creative genius. Those moments are magical when they happen, but they can’t be manufactured. Their power of truly inspirational things, their ability to grab hold of you in a transformative way, comes from being rare and real, surprising and mundane in their beauty. That was the feeling I wanted to chase — but I couldn’t keep tricking myself into thinking I’d find it on a Pinterest board.
So, a few months ago, I hit the delete button. In an instant all the images I’d worked so hard to curate disappeared.
Since then, I have begun to look for inspiration in my real life. I rediscovered the slow joy of flipping through a coffee table book or the waterlogged pages of my favorite novel. I’m finding beauty in thick conversation with friends, on walks with Thomas through our favorite art museum, and in that song that I can’t stop listening to.
When it came down to it, I decided I would rather spend more time living than planning to live. Instead of pausing to carefully curate a selection of other people’s moments; I wanted to be creating my own.