The answer to the above headline is perhaps a more nuanced question: Was Pinterest ever uncool? I’m not sure. But I do know that when it debuted in 2010, it seemed like the most novel thing ever. It was the idea of multiple mood boards that could collect images from any corner of the internet with the easy click of a small, red button—and, more than that, it was a platform that served as a more beautiful, design-focused Google image search that could send you down a rabbit hole of ’90s supermodel photos.
But then, over the years, Pinterest became synonymous in my mind with weddings and mason jars; it morphed into a sort of lifestyle content aggregator that looked like bland white noise (to me, at least). I stopped using it completely—my aspirational, rose-filtered boards with glitter and leopard becoming dormant. Then, last fall, while writing an article about the history of back-of-the-box recipes, I found a 1950s treasure trove of horrifying vintage aspic creations—Jell-O tuna molds, Miracle Whip with pears, Spam, and peaches—on Pinterest.
It was my first time on Pinterest in at least a year or two, and, after my visit, I started receiving emails from the platform with endearingly abstract, robot-generated subject lines. Gone were any kind of cutesy, painstakingly A/B tested salutations—they were to-the-point and bizarre computations of boards I might be interested in. “Hair clips, Cub scouts,” read one appealingly vague subject line, while another email I received in February exclaimed, “What the Hell?, EPIC AWFUL FOOD, and 12 other boards…” “Alright Pinterest,” I thought, “Go all the way off!” I was back on a site that had seemingly traveled very, very far from my aesthetic interests.
Coincidentally, the company is about to go public, and as this Quartz article notes, tech journalists still aren’t sure exactly what it is. Pinterest has been described by outlets as an “online image board,” a “social network,” and a “scrapbooking site.” Pinterest has admirably stuck to its folksy mom aesthetic without trying to morph into anything cooler and sleeker, as the article says.
“The fact that pinners, as the site’s users are called, skew female has been the dominant story about the company, and a distinctly gendered condescension has often defined its news coverage,” Annaliese Griffin writes, using the example of the Washington Post‘s 2015 headline “Pinterest’s Problem: Getting Men to Commit,” as well as any list poking fun at Pinterest fails. And I suppose I was, in my own way, part of that condescension—though not necessarily from a gendered perspective. For me, Pinterest celebrated squeaky-clean, perfectly curated tastes that no longer resonated with me.
But the platform I’m on now is a perfectly bizarro version of those tastes. There are still the generically beautiful vistas, the hair “hacks,” and the overnight-oat recipes (which I, admittedly, LOVE). Alongside those images, though, are increasingly abstract versions of online commerce that I am deeply fascinated by—and huge swaths of vintage image archives that I wouldn’t stumble across on Google Image Search. Even Instagram, with its many, many nostalgic accounts, doesn’t offer the same unhinged variety.
On her personal site, writer Jenny Odell describes one of her interests as “trying to parse bizarre forms of e-commerce,” and Pinterest is a haven for that search. There are these photorealistic 3-D models of gaudy, palatial mansion rooms, for example, or pink bodysuits from Alibaba. In a recent interview with The Cut, Audrey Gelman, CEO of The Wing, said that her team does “a lot of work and concepting on Pinterest.” She continued to say, “I can just get lost in a Pinterest hole and not be heard from for hours. ”
It is one of those rare internet rabbit holes that feels somehow less harmful than that same time lost to Instagram or Twitter. Whereas those platforms come with absorbing the many, many frenetic and stressful energies of people online, Pinterest consists just of images that flow at random. Though you can comment on pins, no one really seems to be on the platform to get their opinions out there. And as someone who is generally Very Online, having a corner of the internet to free float for a while—whether staring at Jell-O molds or (yes, I’ll admit) looking at towel storage ideas—brings me the sort of peace I just don’t normally get from a screen.