Using the Internet To Create Offline Experiences


Below is a summary of the talk I’ll be giving at Pinterest next month. After editing it several times, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a book lurking between the lines. Something about the necessity of offline community in the digital age, maybe? More to come.

I once heard someone describe the table as an anchor and when I heard that comparison it made me think of my family’s Thanksgiving. After the annual feast, we could have moved to the couch, but the table gave our conversations elasticity and so we lingered there instead.

Writer Shauna Niequist says that the Internet is where we vocalize opinions “divorced from context and relationship” but it is the table where we converse with both generosity and frankness. I’ve realized that my most treasured memories all share a commonality and that communicability just so happens to be the table.

A couple of years ago, my friends and I realized that we had hundreds of friends online, but only a handful that existed independently of the Web. For whatever reason, we decided the best way to make some new friends was to host dinner parties.

For those who don’t know: here in Iowa everyone knows somebody with access to a barn. So we found a barn, purchased some Stouffer’s lasagna, and began gathering people together every few months. It was very homespun in the beginning — no chefs, no photographers, and no stylists — just friends helping other friends hang twinkly lights from the rafters of an old barn’s roof. But even in those early days, the gatherings resonated with people.

Guests would regularly hang out around the table, chatting with people who had been strangers just two hours prior. I can still remember standing in the corner one night in particular and being unexpectedly moved by the sight of strangers becoming friends. As it kept happening, I began to sense a deeper purpose and I wondered if this hobby was more of a calling.

The table was our first tool, but Pinterest is our second. It’s invaluable because we’re able to log on, find visual inspiration, and then log off and bring it to life. We use Pinterest because it isn’t about making online life look better, but about making life better offline.

As Around the Table has grown from an intimate party to an immersive social experience, Pinterest has become our favorite tool, second only to the table, of course. It has helped us streamline our creative process as our partnerships have grown. And it’s also allowed us to look back on past events and their initial inspiration.

The table isn’t just an anchor that keeps people in conversation with one another, it’s also a tool that can build bridges, strengthen families, and transform cities. I want to continue to use the table as a tool and I imagine I’ll continue to use Pinterest, too.