This Week I Quit Pinterest
Many of the things I’ve quit recently have been big, gnarly, emotionally draining experiences. (like Late Night Satire, Being a Film Critic, Discussing Identity Online). So I’ll admit when it came to pick something for this week, I was looking for some low hanging fruit, something a little easier to deal with. Quitting Pinterest felt like an easy task. After all it was a platform I was never fully committed to, one I stopped using a long time ago, one that most people I know seem to have also lost interest in already.
But as often happens, quitting Pinterest was only the first step in a longer and more fascinating process.
Stepping Further Away From Another Bad Strategy
As is often the case, shutting down my Pinterest account was reasonably straightforward experience. As expected there were some twists designed into the experience to stop users from taking the final step to getting rid their accounts. Having Pinterest try to steer me towards deactivation, rather than deletion, then tempt me via email to reactivate the account were only minor inconveniences.
So, why was I on Pinterest in the first place?
Partly it was the “be on all platforms” strategy I unpacked in the This Week I Quit Tumblr article a few weeks back. But, that’s only part of the story. What I had tried to share on Pinterest was focussed on photography and music, studios, and gear.
Curation As Creation And Other Myths Of Social Era
In 2010 I had coffee with a real-life social media guru, one of those people who advertises online as an expert in all things, well, social media-ish. I wasn’t interested in being recruited as a client but I did want to understand the start-up and digital scene in Hong Kong, where I lived at the time.
So I asked what I could do to attract more interest in my work.
The answer was to find “things” to share online, articles, blogposts, news, photos. This would show my “leadership” in the creative field. The biggest idea, was to jump on a new music platform and share “playlists” of songs.
Soon after, “things” was replaced by the irksome phrase “content” in this kind of advice. The idea became that to stand out as a “thought leader” you should curate the content that’s out there, to demonstrate your ability to determine what is good an bad, worthwhile or worth ignoring.
The Risk Of Curation
Which is all well and good if you want to be known for picking and choosing from the vast ocean of stuff we see online today. But, for us creators we are tying to get the world to notice the tiny pool of things we make. If we are constantly pointing to the ocean who will notice the pool?
If this curation-driven approach might have helped create an online following a few years ago, it’s not a viable strategy today. Trying to do this pits you against the vast content-farms that dominate the internet now. Found a nice set of new tech products? Well Mashable andBuzzFeed are churning stories like those out 24/7.
And most of us are bored of it! Almost every social media platform today feels suffocated by the endless flood of largely similar content-driven pieces, often automatically re-shared by bots and algorithms.
What Good Curation Really Looks Like
Being a curator is not, in principle at least, a bad idea. Being able to edit all the choices in a field down to a manageable and attractive subset is a useful skill. Department stores, art galleries and magazines couldn’t function without those skills.
But, and this is a crucial but, the best curation is also an act of creation. The people who create those brilliant department store layouts that seem to walk us, helpless and open-walletted to the cashier, are deep, thoughtful, creative designers. Same with the folks who build the best art gallery exhibitions. And of course, great magazine editing, the kind that keeps us subscribing year after year is every bit a powerful of creative industry as the writing and photography it uses in the layout.
The best curators choose curation as their primary act of creation.
Don’t Bring Your A-Game To Your C-Interest
But, if your primary act of creation is something else, curation may well not be a good place to put too much of your attention. As creators we’ve already made a choice about how we want to be in the world, the curation we really should be doing is what we want to be known for.
I’m proud of my studio, proud of the work that went into designing it, building it and choosing the products I use in it. But, I’m not a studio designer or builder, nor do I run a gear shop.
Ask yourself, will people choose you as a portrait photographer because you can pick and choose which kind of camera bag is the coolest on the market? Will people pick you to remix their song because of your great list of custom microphone cables? Will writers ask you to edit their work because of your amazing collection of USB keyboards?
The stuff I shared on Pinterest was fun. We all like to talk about the stuff we want to buy or the stuff we like to use. But, I wasn’t using it to be known for the stuff I want to be known for, I was using it for, well, it wasn’t even really curation, it was just because it was there.
The Risk Of Being A Social Media Early Adopter
There is one final reason why I was on Pinterest – I just wanted to check it out. I’m kind of hopeless that way, the eternal early-adopter, like a social media crash test dummy, I check out all the new platforms. Partly it’s the MySpace experience, I know the current favourites will one day crash so I want to be in early on the new thing. Peach, Gab, Ello – I join early, waste time, then leave since so many of these apps fail to grow. I behave my job is being a social media expert, when really it isn’t and never was.
Maybe that’s the wasteful, unproductive habit I really need to quit?
This Week I Quit is a (mostly) weekly series where I try, in a personal way, to address the habit of overcommitment. Each week I quit something, it could be an app, a habit, a possession, a word, anything that had a hold on my attention. I explain why I made the choice to quit and what it was like. Last time I Quit Watching Late Night Satire and you can read all the posts in this series here.