In 2019, the writer and actress Tavi Gevinson confessed in New York mag that she was no longer using Instagram. Sure, her public-facing profile was still actively posting to the platform as was professionally required of her. But now, all that activity was being conducted by way of what Gevinson called “my secret Instagram system.”
“I asked a woman who had done personal-assistant work for me if she wanted a new gig,” Gevinson explained. “Since then, I’ve texted her my photos and captions, and she has posted them on my behalf.”
For Gevinson, this ‘system’ allowed her to pull the puppet strings on the version of herself she performed for her Instagram audience—without the trouble of actually going on Instagram, a platform purpose-built for sucking away our time in exchange for an inverse-proportionate surge of internalized inadequacy. (Gevinson’s system also required that the paid assistant fill a Google doc with copy-pasted comments that met certain criteria outlined by Gevinson herself, including constructive criticism and “anything from a verified account.”)
Unlike Gevinson, I don’t really feel like I have to maintain a brand or presence on social media in order to achieve what I want to professionally. I haven’t gotten much meaningful work as a result of my shenanigans on Instagram or Twitter; I’ve gotten work from working. If the work is relevant to enough people, it seems to find an audience. I’m pleased to say that I really don’t need to involve a persona at any point in the process. This is lucky, because I am boring.
But like Gevinson, I do feel the pull of the chatter and performance and noise. Instagram is her kryptonite; for me, it’s Twitter. And instead of hiring someone to post on my behalf, I’ve been trying a very simple workaround: I took the app off my phone and logged myself out of the browser version completely.
I know this sounds so basic, but the impact has been a little bit shocking. While I can still totally log onto Twitter, it’s now just enough of a pain in the butt that I find myself reflexively scrolling much less and, effectively, being much more deliberate about how I spend that newly freed time and attention. As a result, I’m happier, my focus is sharper, and my screen time is down 33% despite the two novels I have on the go in my e-reader apps.
Gevinson noticed that, since enacting her system, she had begun thinking in terms of an audience of 20 specific people instead of a faceless crowd of 500,000. “I am largely absent from a wider social circle,” she wrote, “but I am a more attentive close friend.” I think I’m experiencing something similar — both in my relationships with other people, and with the essence of time itself.