Online Inspiration & Curation: An Addiction to Yearning?

In her New York Times Magazine piece, Pinterest, Tumblr and the Trouble With 'Curation', Carina Chocano describes how the "visual catch-bin blog" has become increasingly common, and how "curation" has gone viral. Chocano herself spends a lot of time on this blog (among others: Ffffound, Poppytalk, Oh Joy) as well as the ever-popular Pinterest, a site that provides "a clean, well-lighted place to collect found images and share them with others."

According to the article, people use "web sites like these to escape, de-stress, perk up, calm down, feel something, not feel something, distract themselves and (they don't call it "lifestyle pornography" for nothing) modulate pleasure and arousal."

Chocano goes on to define this curation phenomenon that she describes: She calls it "sehnsucht" — a German word that translates as "addictive yearning."

Well, are we? Are we really addicted to yearning? Do we find these idyllic-image-filled sites compelling because they fill a void in our lives? The perfectly appointed dream living room we fear we'll never have. The lovely garden we won't get off of our own behinds to start. The one zillion and fifth DIY project we find inspiring, but will never actually do.

Call me cheesy, naive, or corny, but when I see an image on Pinterest, one that I really love, something strange happens to me: I smile at my computer. I gaze at it like a child and say a silent, "Well, aren't you just the cutest thing I've ever seen." (Counterpoint: there are also those pins which make me scowl, like the recurring "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" pin, in which case I say: Have you ever tried a cupcake?)

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Pinterest has inspired me to try a lot of new things in the last year. I made orange painted Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween with my kids. I braided a green jersey headband from an old tee shirt. I learned how to knit. And, I found countless sources of inspiration for the posts I write for this site. My DIY pins inspired me to make some handmade jewelry for my five-year-old daughter — though much to her dismay, I must admit. As she pulled out the beaded necklace I labored over for hours she said, "Is this really my present?"

My food pins also inspired me to cook a Christmas eve feast for my family, an act which was highly out of character. This point was clearly illustrated by my father's comment as he bit into my herbed mashed potatoes, "Well, I hope we don't have to wait another 35 years for the next meal!"

On this site, I have felt similarly inspired. Writing for this blog has inspired a number of firsts in my life: I started making my bed for the first time in thirty-six years. I completed DIY projects at which I normally would have balked. I organized my closets and bookshelves, upgraded the pillows in my bedroom, and tackled chores that I'd put off for months. But there were failed attempts, too. (My husband finally recycled my shoebox-tops-turned-painted-white-canvases that I left for months to dry in the garage, forever paused in "step two" of the five step DIY chevron wall art.)

So, let's consider it again: Are we addicted to yearning? Well, maybe. But is that such a bad thing? In my humble opinion, visual inspiration boards do exactly that — inspire. I believe that a collection of images, no matter where you find them, is up for interpretation. What might beg more careful scrutiny is our individual reactions to the images we see of picture-perfect homes and wooden sculptures chiseled by hand with a toothpick.

It's like the story of a bus driver who yells "HURRY THE FREAK UP!" to three people getting on the bus. Person number one thinks: "Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry! I feel terrible for holding everyone up! I'm sorry for being late! I'm sorry for being alive!" Person number two thinks: "Chill out, buddy! Could you tone the anger down a few thousand decibels?" Person number three thinks: "Oh, poor fella. He's tired and overworked. Someone needs to give that guy a break!"

My guess is that, in a similar way, individuals can look at the same beautiful image — a gloriously well done DIY project completed after twelve arduous hours spent hot gluing seashells onto a giant styrofoam ball to create a glorious hanging pendant — and have a variety of different reactions. One person might see that image as a reflection of what they think they are not, and will say to themselves, "I am so incredibly lame! I'll never do that! Imsolameimsolameimsolameimsolame! I'm. The. World's. Lamest!" Another person might see that diligent hard work and say to themselves, "Wow. I'm inspired by that. And one day, I'm going to do it, too."

Or, maybe I won't, they might think. Maybe I don't want to spend twelve hours using a hot glue gun. Maybe I don't have one, maybe I have a strong aversion to glue, or maybe I don't even really want a pendant. But I'll still choose to be inspired by the person who did.

(Image: Geoff's Southern Exposure Studio)