Addicted to a Web site called Pinterest: Digital crack for women

Petula Dvorak
Columnist February 20, 2012

I’ve made 17 attempts at writing this column in the past three days.

The pattern is always the same: turn on the computer, log in to Pinterest and lose myself in the site’s churning cycle of interest, hope, inspiration, jealousy, desperation, despair and depression.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Pinterest is the hottest new social-networking tool. And it’s digital crack for women.

Even the tech world says this. “Pinterest is exceptionally sticky and keeps it users engaged for long periods of time,” comScore wrote in a blog in December.

It is surging in popularity, with about 11 million unique visitors last month, according to Forbes. The tech world is gaga over a site that may have reached the 10-million-user mark faster than any other.

What this amounts to is a virtual pin board, a space to organize photos from all over the Internet.

I know. It sounded useless to me, too. Then I visited it and fell down the black hole time suck that it is.

The bulletin boards are simple, clean spaces filled with cool pictures of food, crafts, travel spots, home remodeling and decorating ideas, fitness tips, hairstyles, furniture, architecture, kid projects, cute animal photos, cheeky sayings and wedding plans.

It’s the photo scrapbook of hopes, dreams and desires for grown-ups, mostly those of the female persuasion. And that raises the question of whether that’s actually a healthy thing for grown women to be spending time compiling a virtual hope chest.

Pinterest women give themselves parameters like addicts who are in the full bloom of denial: “Only after 9 p.m.” or “Only on the weekends and never at work.”

As one commenter put it on the DC Urban Moms forum: “so sorry that i was introduced to this. it’s very addicting.”

And it has come along at the perfect time, just as the novelty of Facebook is fading, having assured you that your ex is adequately mediocre and now your mom and your boss have friended you.

And unlike Facebook or Twitter, where it is ultimately obvious that your profile photo is from 1987 and your check-ins are no more exotic than Dairy Queen, Pinterest boards (which can never be made private), advertise only your hopes and dreams, the Stilton Gold style you aspire to, rather than the Velveeta life you live.

There is a game we’ve started playing in our house to underscore the eternal optimism of Pinterest. My husband gives me a word, I search for it on the site.

“Toilet paper rolls?” You get photos of delicate wall sculptures, wedding favor packages, seedling pots and adorable owls made from them.

“Tree frog?” Cute froggy pictures, a tree frog bento lunch, a knitting project and a full set of women’s toenails delicately painted with tree frog pictures.

“Bottle caps?” Necklaces, purses and wall hangings.

“Footballs?” Truffles, eclairs and deviled eggs, of course.

“Kitty litter?” The kitty litter cake (gross).

“Blizzard?” Romantic photos of snowflakes falling.

“Motor oil?” Vases.

I finally stumped it with “dipping tobacco” and “jock straps.”

Pinterest revolves around the idealistic, stylized catalogue scenes and magazine photos I have worked hard to ban from my life because they inevitably leave me feeling inadequate, messy, hideous and hopeless.

It can be ridiculous enough to have spawned a few spoof sites, such as one where I can’t help but agree that the seaweed necklace project is a bit odd.

The founder, Ben Silbermann of Iowa, said he’s aiming for middle America.

“The first people to understand the website were mostly women in Des Moines, then Minneapolis, then Houston and Chicago. To this day, the Midwest and Iowa in particular are disproportionately represented given its population amongst our user base,” Silbermann told Forbes.

It’s so crafty and girly, I can almost wonder if it’s part of a sinister plot — aligned with the attack on Planned Parenthood, Girl Scouts and access to contraception — to enmesh women in yarn craft and divert them from political action. Back to the kitchen and crafting table, ladies!

Make no mistake, the site’s tentacles are long, reaching far past Iowa. Women in New York, Los Angeles and Washington are hooked, too.

When I joined, I saw that about a third of my female friends — lawyers, executives, professors, IT engineers in the District — are pinning like mad.

And I finally decided that this could be a good thing, thanks to Susan Niebur.

Niebur was a mommy blogger and astrophysicist in the District who died this month, leaving behind two small children, more than 7,000 loyal online followers and a community of grieving people.

Given a few years to live after receiving a diagnosis of a lethal form of breast cancer at 34, she blogged and parented and lived strong and big until the end.

And she pinned her hopes and dreams on Pinterest, sharing snack ideas, fashion finds and beloved books until her last days. Her page, as she made it, remains.

A hope chest of dreams and thoughts to leave behind. Maybe not so bad, after all.

Dvorak will respond to your comments about this column at noon on Tuesday at washingtonpost.
com/dvorak. You also can read previous columns there.

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