One of the downsides of social media is that it tends to make other people’s lives look a LOT more interesting than our own. Our feeds are flooded with posts about exotic vacations, amazing kids and stunning home renovations. Never mind that these are probably just the high points of otherwise ordinary lives – when it comes to online communication, we all like to put our best foot forward.
Ironically, our friends and followers aren’t paying half as much attention to our online activity as the dot-coms are. While we’re hustling to make a good impression on social media, these guys are hard at work constructing their own profiles of us, based on the websites we visit and the things we buy. Usually, this results in targeted ads and communications that reinforce our self-perceptions. But once in a while, something goes wrong. And when it does? Well, buckle up, because you and your ego are in for a bumpy ride.
Case in Point: On a recent morning, I checked e-mail and came across the following notification from Pinterest…
We thought you might like these Pins and boards about Frugal Living and Spinach
Is it me or is that the bleakest subject line you’ve ever seen? To be fair, I do enjoy spinach and it probably wouldn’t kill me to live a little more frugally, but that’s pretty dismal for a sentence that’s supposed to grab my attention and make me want to open the e-mail. Was my life really so dull that Pinterest thought Frugal Living and Spinach would be just the hook to reel me in? I had apparently hit a new low without even realizing it.
I first joined Pinterest a few years ago when we decided to renovate our kids’ bathroom, thinking that a secret board would be a convenient place to collect ideas for paint, tile and lighting. Despite my initial enthusiasm, it did not turn out to be the most productive partnership. I only managed to Pin one fabric sample, which I didn’t even end up using.
When you establish a new account on Pinterest, you’re encouraged to follow a few boards, so I decided to follow one called “Quotes.” My daughters then took over the registration process and signed up to follow “Sky,” which features dramatic photos of clouds and rainbows; “Sunrises Sunset’s and Moon Light’s,” a celebration of atmospheric photography (and apostrophes, evidently); and “Creative face and hair artwork.”
Pinterest notifies you whenever there are updates to the boards you follow, and it also lets you know about related Pins on other boards. It’s even able to suggest topics based on your activity on partner websites – basically, any website or app with a Pin It button. This all makes perfect sense, in theory. But when I looked back at my Pinterest notifications, it appeared that something had gone seriously awry. The subject lines ranged from merely curious to truly bizarre, as though Pinterest had let some kind of random topic-generating bot with H.A.L.-like determination loose on the Internet.
We found some Quiches and Funny People Pins for you!
Teas, Psychics and other topics you might love
Computers, Physical Activities and other topics picked for you
I cannot explain the origin of any of these topics, except possibly Quiches. The longer I was absent from Pinterest, the more frequent and outlandish the suggestions became.
Dentistry, Spring and other topics picked for you
We found some Fish Recipes and Playroom Pins and boards for you!
Horses, Schools and other topics picked for you
Dentistry? Really? It was like Pinterest had suddenly turned into a jilted boyfriend, using increasingly desperate measures to get my attention and win me back.
We found new Entrepreneur and Whole Brain Teaching Pins and boards for you!
Simple, Shorts and other topics picked for you
We found some Potty Training and Macaroni Pins and boards for you!
What does Whole Brain Teaching mean? Is that even a thing? Finally, my disgruntled ex gave up and resorted to shaming me with Frugal Living and Spinach, as if to say, “Fine, be that way. You were just a cheapskate with green stuff stuck between your teeth anyway.”
Ouch. That hurts, Pinterest. Listen, I’m sorry it didn’t work out between us, but I promise it wasn’t you. It was me. You know I have commitment issues when it comes to home improvement projects. At least we’ll always have our memories of Sunset’s and Moon Light’s.
The good news is that Pinterest and I are still friends, even though we’ve both moved on. However, our affair made me realize that we can’t control what others think of us – at least not without a really gifted social media profile consultant – and we certainly shouldn’t let others shake our faith in ourselves. I think legendary basketball coach John Wooden said it best, according to the Quotes board. “Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are, and your reputation is who people think you are.”
You know, that’s good stuff. Maybe I should give Pinterest another chance.