Carr upon Twitter

Craig Mod

Did I know David Carr? No. I had never spoken with him. I never met him. I don’t even think we had ever been in the same room, although it’s possible as I’ve visited the Times. He may have been physically close at some point but I can lay no claim to closeness.

Yet, the other day, when his passing was made public, it stung. In Tokyo there are earthquakes, but this news rattled the room in its own, horrible way.

And so where did I go to seek some kind of solidarity or commiseration?

I didn’t turn to Snapchat. I didn’t turn to LINE or WhatsApp. I didn’t turn to Facebook. I didn’t even turn to The New York Times, itself. Like a reflex, I turned to Twitter. I opened Twitter and there they were: People I didn’t know, had never met, creating, spontaneously, an ad hoc network of hope, compassion, love and, indeed, commiseration. {1}

Say what you will about Twitter, but for all of its flaws, confusions, missteps, for all of its trolls and abusers, there is something raw and fundamental born from the simplicity of its model in the face of so many algorithms otherwise reconstituting our social streams. You follow a set of interesting people. Their thoughts tumble out. You drink them up in a chronologically reversed, unfiltered, linear order. And in distressing moments like this — where the world loses a voice to whom you may not have been close, but to whom you felt closeness, and for whom that sense of closeness was shared — the plainness and predictability of a raw cascade becomes something more powerful than any algorithmically sculpted stream could ever be. The natural rhythm of mourning should not be approximated. Twitter was, for a few hours, a bittersweet eulogy, a celebration, and it became so organically and crudely and beautifully.

Did I know David Carr? No. But a lot of people I follow did. And I felt an unexpected closeness to them — superficial or true, it makes little difference — and through that an intimacy with a man I never met, and in so, was able to find some resolution to the off kilter melody of that morning. And I was grateful as all hell for it — for David and his voice, and the many it so clearly inspired.


{1} This seems to be what our social networks trend towards —to act horrible, solipsistic, disinterested, or aloof until it’s time to be compassionate. And then, wham. David Carr, himself, noted this, calling Twitter a “caldron of sarcasm, much of it funny, little of it useful” but noting that it does indeed “change during large events.


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