Is The Internet Performance Art? Tinx And Maya Man, Two Digital Creators, Discuss
Maya Man, artist and internet anthropologist, and Tinx, The New York Times bestselling author and digital pioneer, talk about life online, what it means for girlhood, and how to lead a career online while maintaining sanity.
When we first began brainstorming for the Freaking Out issue, we knew the internet would have to be a throughline. It’s the backdrop of every mental spiral we have. It’s the instigator of 9/10 meltdowns. It’s a low, slow humming that drones on in the background of our daily lives. In the last five years specifically, leading a hyper-online career has taken on new meaning: Screentime has become meaningless. Why minimize our hours logged if we live there, anyway? It’s sinister. It’s productive. It’s uniting. It’s divisive. And yet, here we are, writing this for our online publication.
And so, who better to talk about life online than two women who have built their names and careers by way of online personas and mastering a keen understanding of internet behavior? Here you have it: a conversation between Tinx, the digital creator who began this chapter of her career as TikTok’s big sister in 2020, and Maya Man, an artist whose work is inspired by the very behavior of hyper-online individuals. While they function differently online, Tinx and Maya share a language. Below, they use it to dissect what it means to live online today.
MAYA: Tinx! How are you doing? How's your day?
TINX: I'm good. I'm great. How was your day?
MAYA: My day is good. Are you in LA right now?
TINX: I just got back to LA. Yeah.
MAYA: Nice. How was your New York time?
TINX: It was great. I love New York. I'm back and forth all the time now. I'm spending more and more time here and I really miss the city when I'm not there. It's always great. Where are you?
MAYA: I'm in New York. I actually just moved from LA. My boyfriend and I drove across the country. An interesting way to see America.
TINX: Oh yeah, that’s so cool.
MAYA: I just read your book, The Shift, which was amazing. Congratulations. There are a lot of juicy details about dating in the book. But, I actually want to keep the focus on the internet. You got started on TikTok, specifically. Can you talk a little bit about what those early days of posting were like for you?
TINX: Oh, it was the good old days. It was a really, really happy time. It was so innocent. I think that posting on the internet is kind of like going to Coachella. Nothing will ever be as good as your first time when you don't really know what to expect. And then, the more you go, the more stressful it is. 2020 was, I mean, obviously a shithole for everything. But for me, on the internet, it was the golden era. And it was a really happy time on TikTok. It was like dancing, it was the age of Charlie and Addison. It was just so fun and funny and irreverent. It felt so fresh. I loved early TikTok because it felt like it was breathing air into my internet experience. I would spend 567 hours a day there. It was very, very fun in the beginning.
MAYA: That's such a positive way to describe it. I feel similarly, I'm really sad that the dancing has gone away on TikTok, that was my favorite
TINX: Now it's like QVC on there. And I’m like, get me to the dancing. I loved that it made me so happy. And yeah, it was a joyful, very entertaining experience at that time.
MAYA: I totally agree. I really liked how, in your book, you wrote about when you first started gaining more visibility online and becoming more of a person people know on Tiktok. And online, you talk about this process of going through the purple machine, which I love as a metaphor. And it's something that I've never been able to articulate. And I think you articulated really well. So I'm wondering, can you talk a little bit more about what going through the purple machine means?
TINX: I didn't know why I thought about it as the purple machine. I think my friend figured it out — in Stepford Wives the movie (which is a great movie, everyone should watch it) there's a part of the movie where it goes into cartoon mode. And they show this purple machine women go through, and they come out as shiny or better versions of themselves. Now, there are these influencers who come to LA and, in the beginning, they're just normal kids. And then they go through getting followers and getting an agent and a manager, and then all of a sudden you look up, and their hair is so good. And they have a stylist, and everything is a bit more edited, and their captions are more tight. And they're not saying as much as they were and they're not posting like that anymore. And you're like, oh, you went through the purple machine.
I don't know if I've fully gone through it. I think part of going through the purple machine is losing a degree of self-awareness. In some sense, I hope that I don't ever fully go through it. It's just kind of a silly thing that I talked about with my followers. It’s super interesting to me.
MAYA: Totally. I feel like, in some ways, there’s a level one of the purple machine. A low-level lavender.
TINX: Maybe, yeah.
MAYA: Something in your work that really stands out to me is humor, which plays a huge role in your content. You’re able to make people laugh with the stories that you tell. Even the way that the book is written — it's very fun and funny, while also giving advice that's serious. This is something I think about a lot with my own work, too. I always like to have an element of humor, I feel like it brings people in and makes whatever you're talking about a little more inviting. How do you think about humor in your work? Or how does that play a role in your content?
TINX: I don't even know if I'm very funny anymore. I think it's hard to remain funny on the internet. I'm very self-conscious about that. Honestly, I worry that my humor is dwindling, because you receive a certain amount of criticism and eventually it kind of beats your humor out of you. So I've been thinking about humor a lot. I use humor to cope. I use humor as a vehicle to talk about difficult things. But I do feel that I'm kind of at a pivotal moment where I'm like, I want to get back to a little bit more of that humor I had in the beginning. It's the honor of my life that people come to me for advice, but sometimes, you know, I get a lot of serious questions on my radio show or on AMAs that I do every Monday and Thursday. And all of the sudden, I'll look up and I'll be like shit, I haven't made one joke today because we've been talking about all this really heavy stuff. So it's a balance, but I'm definitely going to make 2024 a year for humor.
MAYA: Yeah, I love that you opened your book with the anecdote about Sex And The City, which to me has a really strong balance of humor and also really real advice. First, I have to know which Sex And The City character do you feel closest to?
TINX: I'm, I'm honestly like, I don't know. I mean, I think I have like, at least a Samantha rising. Maybe like a Charlotte moon. Like, superficially, I am very similar to Carrie. But I really, really hope that I'm not a raging narcissist. I like to think that I'm a good friend, and that I know when to check myself into therapy. I get the comparisons to Carrie. They are, they're all flawed in their own way. And they're actually very real portrayals of people because we're all flawed. We all have things and we all have, you know, issues that we're working on. But it was revolutionary, and it's one of my greatest inspirations, in a non ironic way. I think about it every day.
MAYA: I really agree with that. I think what made it so strong and relatable, which also makes it challenging to align myself with any of the characters. They have really bad flaws! Something that I was thinking about, when I was reading the book and got the reference to Sex And The City was how these characters were very free to sort of explore many different dating scenarios and situations because they were fictional. And that was what they were written to do. I'm wondering, if you ever feel like online, you're sort of playing some level of a fictional version of yourself, or that sort of character Ness comes into play at all?
TINX: Yeah, I mean, it's tough. On the internet, you find yourself packaging yourself or framing stories in a certain way. When I was first starting out, I was definitely a caricature of myself. I was an exaggerated version of myself in a lot of my content. The fact is, I burned out.
MAYA: I'm curious how you think about this idea of authenticity online and sort of what goes through your head before you press post? Because I know, in that moment, I often feel a lot. I don't know exactly what it is. But definitely, I'm running through something before I press post.
TINX: I don't even know. Isn't it all to a degree, some type of performance? I try not to edit myself too much because whenever I feel like, oh I shouldn't post this or like oh I should redo this, it always sucks more the second time.
MAYA: You often reference the very contemporary concept of being basic. And I'm curious how you define the concept of being basic, what does it mean to you? And why do you think there's this cultural fixation on this label?
TINX: I think that the word basic has evolved so much. In the beginning, it was the way to describe a group of women who liked a specific set of things that were common, I guess you could say. The way that I use it is like, almost, I'm making fun of people who use it as a diss. Because first of all, I can't stand when people just hate what's popular because they think that that's a statement. Second of all, there's so much criticism of what women like, and it bothers me so much. I don't think that anybody should be ashamed of what they like or don’t like. You spend enough time on the internet and eventually, you can predict the criticisms that people will have. So I'm almost just like, okay, I'll say it. I'm basic. I'm this, I'm that. What else have you got? I'm proud to be basic.
MAYA: I feel really similar — I find a lot of comfort in basic. I'm curious what the experience was like to get to a place in your career where you started to say no to opportunities. And I'm curious what that shift was like for you and how you decide what to engage with or what not to engage with now?
TINX: The lifecycle of an influencer is even shorter than the lifecycle of an athlete or a model. We've got like a couple good years. So it's hard because I don't know when this is all going to end. It's hard to say no. You're supposed to be cool and say no to everything, but I'm kind of like, you guys would do it too. I genuinely like saying yes to most things. I love to be busy. I love a challenge. I like to make money. So of course, I don't say yes to everything. But I am aware of what a rare opportunity this is. So I really want to maximize every opportunity that I get.
MAYA: That makes a lot of sense. What do you wish more people knew or understood about what it's like to be an influencer today?
TINX: Everyone wants to become an influencer now. Everyone can try it, and I'm a big fan of the mentality that if people have shit to say, just let them try it. Let them go through it. Talking without experience is just talking, so I'm very into just letting people experience it for themselves and then see. I think we're definitely at a pivotal point. I do feel like we're coming up on another shift. I really just try to focus on my community and serve them. I want them to be as happy as possible. I really try to just focus on entertaining and informing my community. And if I do that, then I feel like I've done a good job.
MAYA: Speaking of shifts, there also has been a shift, especially recently in on the internet and in art and music and fashion, toward focusing on this idea of the young girl and femininity more, which I feel like pairs really well with the way you've been referred to before as the big sister on TikTok. There's a new focus on the challenges of girlhood and growing up, especially now growing up online. I'm curious why you think this focus on girlhood and girl culture is happening right now?
TINX: I think that young women are so vulnerable right now. We’re finally really starting to be honest about what a treacherous experience being a woman is. And that begins with girlhood, right? That begins in everyone's high school bedroom and on the internet, where 13-14 year old girls are opening TikTok and unable to look at themselves without a filter. It never fucking ends for women. I think that people are starting to realize, wow, being a woman is an extreme sport.
I do sound like a boomer, but I can't believe how old some of these girls look because of the work they're getting done and the makeup and whatever. We're also starting to look around and maybe ask who has the responsibility to say, you don't need to alter yourself. You don’t need to use this eye cream that is meant for like 30 year olds when you're like 12. Who has that responsibility? I think people are helpfully wanting to shelter and protect girlhood for as long as possible, knowing that it's, you know, there's so much more to come with age.
MAYA: All of that really resonates. Especially this idea of girlhood being forever. I still struggle and deal with all those issues and things that you talk about. I still feel like being on the internet has all the same pressures. I want to end this conversation by asking you — what’s something that you've freaked out over recently online? Can be in a good way or bad way.
TINX: What did I freak out about online? Okay, the outfit that Beyonce wore to the Renaissance movie premiere in London. That was a freak out. It was Balmain. Oh my god, that was like, a big freakout moment. So that's my freakout moment.
MAYA: It's amazing. Everyone was there. Taylor was there!
TINX: Girls supporting girls. That’s what I love to freak out about.