“Be uncommon.” “You are always stronger than you think you are.” “Be so happy that when others look at you they become happy too.” These are three of the many quotes on my Pinterest pinboard. Though originally designed with design-related images in mind, Pinterest has become a prime destination for the sharing of inspirational quotes, many of which have religious undertones.
For the uninitiated, Pinterest is a social photo-sharing website on which users manage a “virtual pinboard.” It ranks in the top 50 websites in traffic, according to Alexa.com. A Quotes category for organization was launched this summer, and it is estimated to make up around ten percent of Pinterest’s traffic.
In an October 3, 2012, article, “The Gospel According to Pinterest,” Alex Williams considers the quotation craze on Pinterest. Framing his story with the recent re-popularization of the “Keep calm and carry on” British propaganda poster created in 1939, Williams interviews Pinterest power users, executives, and those inspired by many a quote. Of particular interest to this blogger, Williams at one point calls the pinned quotes “homilies.”
According to those Williams interviews, Pinterest quotes can boost self-esteem, encourage motivation, or simply inspire. Sarah Kieffer of The Vanilla Bean Blog tapes particularly moving quotes to her bathroom mirror and refrigerator. Caitlin Flemming, who runs SacramentoStreet.com, calls them “kick-in-the-pants quotes.”
A quick scroll through Pinterest’s Quotes category reveals they comes in all varieties: snark-filled quotes, funny quotes, profane sayings, simple Bible verse references (“John 3:16”), direct Bible quotes, more general Bible-inspired inspiration, spiritual but not religious standbys, and a plethora of (accurately quoted?) famous-person sayings.
Joanna Piacenza, a graduate student in media, religion, and culture at University of Colorado, Boulder, connects the rise of inspirational quotes to a broader technology-and-culture moment. Piancenza claims, “As we rely on technology more and more, not only for communication but for entertainment, we start to expect some level of intimacy from our technology. We expect to see ourselves in our media choices. So new media, especially Pinterest, is not only access to digital information, but it's a reflection of who we are and, more importantly, who we want to become.”
According to Piacenza, re-pinning, sharing, re-Tweeting, liking, etc. may have to do with how we seek to project ourselves to one other, “painting a polished picture of ourselves and what we believe” to those in our networks and beyond.
Of course, it’s not enough. Life is more than a pinboard. Faith is more than a quote. The life well lived does not fit on even a gorgeously designed screen print, no matter the typeface. And yet, on Pinterest, the search for life’s meaning—or at least how to get through the day—is on.
So, rather than demeaning the shallow nature of most spiritual/religious Pinterest quotes, faith leaders should take a gander and try to discern what is going on with users beneath their clicks, pins, and likes. In fact, we might even start a trend ourselves. Here’s a few of my own, ready to be made sharable and rendered in fancy font:
“The Spirit moves in mysterious ways…even online.”
“Pinning, liking, and sharing alone? Be bigger than your profile.”
“Love God. Love neighbor. Share that.”
Rev. Adam J. Copeland teaches in the Religion Department at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where he serves as Faculty Director for Faith and Leadership. To read more of Adam’s writing, visit A Wee Blether and follow his Tweets at @ajc123.
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