Finding our past selves online

The other night, one of my friends was over to hang out and cut my hair. As we were chatting about haircuts and colors, we inevitably ended up on Pinterest. Yes, inevitably. Having both been largely inactive on the platform for years, what was initially a quick search for hairstyle inspiration transformed into a search of our past selves — as stored in mood boards, style inspiration, ideas for future plans… all saved through thousands of ‘pins’.

We found out that both of us had been avid Pinterest users during a certain period of our teenage years and started to compare our Pinterest boards. Being university friends with no common background pre-Leiden, the interesting thing was that we had very similar boards, pins, and even cringy names for said boards. (Maybe our friendship was predestined, who knows). This brought to mind Perihaan’s blog from last week about how our social media has the possibility to influence our personality, and I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe we’d been consuming the same kind of media content growing up.

Down the rabbit hole

We were quickly done glancing over the hairstyles that initially took us to Pinterest and instead started going through the other boards we’d saved during our more active years on there. Launching ourselves into a Pinterest rabbit hole, we’d every so often point out a particularly cringe-worthy pin or ugly design and ask each other “how could I like that?”. The whole exercise produced quite a few laughs and, I think, gave us both a better idea about what the other had been like as a teenager.

What surprised us was how much we could tell about our younger selves from those pins. We could see what kind of clothes, interior designs, houses, activities, and books we were interested in. We could almost tell our moods based on the quotes we’d saved, and what external media (outside Pinterest) we were influenced by based on pop culture references.

Of course, someone looking at our Pinterest profiles without any knowledge about us may not have gotten the same takeaways that we did (since we also remembered why we’d saved certain pins, etc). Nevertheless, I’m sure there is quite a lot to learn about someone based on their prior digital habits and media use.

Digital diaries and (lack of) privacy

This takes me to the whole concept of digital diaries. My generation’s obsession with YouTube, Instagram, and even TikTok may stem from the need to document our activities, emotions, and ideas.

The other day, I told my mom that I’d found my blog from when I was an exchange student (something which I thought I’d taken down years ago — yikes). The blog described my life living in the US as a 16-year-old and was mostly written to keep everyone at home up to date. In explaining the story of how I’d stumbled across my blog online, I told my how it had been fun to read through the old entries and be reminded of what I did and thought at the time.

My mom interestingly said that she had also kept a “blog” when she was an au pair in Switzerland in her 20s. Knowing that my mom’s 20s are about 30 years past, you can imagine my surprise and confusion over her purported tech savviness in the 90s.

However, she continued with: “Back then, our “blogs” were just our diaries”. Oh.

So, documenting activities, emotions, and ideas obviously isn’t something unique or to my generation. However, sharing them with the world might be. Whether this is for good or bad, I really can’t tell but what I do know is that we need better education about how to protect our privacy online — and we need it from a younger age.

Feature Image: Tracy Le Blanc/Pexels