/ A Perspective from the Petri Dish

When I was in architecture school, I did a project inspired by the artist Piet Mondrian. In the course of my work, I came across this quote from Mondrian,  “I don’t want pictures, I want to find things out.”

A decade later, I didn’t expect to find a parallel between Mondrian and our CEO and Founder, Josh James, but a month ago Josh kicked off the #domosocial experiment by saying something to the effect of, “I’m not sure what’s going to happen when we do this, but if we do it, we’ll learn something.” This whole hullabaloo is more about finding things out than anything else. So what have we found out? Well, given that I’m more an amoeba in Josh’s petri dish than the scientist with the microscope, I can’t speak to the big-picture insights from having 150 people tossed into the deep end of the social media pool, but I can talk about what I can see as I gaze longingly back up at the surface.

The thing that stands out the most to me is a lesson about community. One of the wonders of social networks is how connected I feel to family and friends from Zurich, Switzerland to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s very satisfying, but the most popular platforms don’t readily lend themselves to growing my circle of “friends” into a global community. I think there’s one simple reason for that, language.

Enter Pinterest, where the primary currency isn’t words, it’s pictures. As you collect images from the far reaches of the internet, something greater than the sum of those pictures starts to emerge.  At first, the thing that I saw coming into focus was a culture of conspicuous consumption and the value of braided blonde hair. Eventually however, I started seeing that most all of us were sharing what we perceived as beautiful, clever or enriching.

In spite of all the “stuff I want” collections of images, I’m delighted with how easily I’ve connected to people from around the world just by virtue of shared swooning at cars from the 1930’s or architecture in the Austrian Alps. In just the little time I’ve tinkered on Pinterest, I’ve connected to people in Asia and Europe that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Given that I don’t speak German or Japanese, and that my French is limited to helping me find a bathroom, a car or various stinky cheeses, these shared experiences don’t happen unless they happen through pictures.

So now we know, if you give a whole bunch of people an internet with a whole bunch of pictures, they may not be able to talk to one another, but they can certainly build a kind of community. Mondrian knew it really wasn’t about the pictures. It’s about finding things out.