The Onion’s apprisal* of the recent tragedy in Aurora – Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting’s Aftermath Will Play Out – was nearly spot-on, but somehow managed to miss one important inevitability: the obligatory Facebook stalk.
*noun of ‘apprise’ – someone please explain to me why one is in the dictionary, and the other not
You know what I’m talking about. After a story breaks, media outlets rush the Facebook pages of those involved, scan their Tweets, Google for any last digital trace, all in a desperate search for any shred of information that might add some insight – and more importantly – color to their coverage.
Though Holmes was apparently a gifted scientist who had received a federal grant to work on his Ph.D. at one of the most competitive neuroscience programs in the country, he was a loner who — oddly for a young scientist — seemed to have no Internet presence.
Even the doctoral program Holmes recently left took pains to sweep away its digital footprint:
Jacque Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the University of Colorado medical school, said that police have told the school to not talk about Holmes. The university also took down the website for its graduate neuroscience program on Saturday.
But what Holmes lacked in internet presence, his victims could readily provide. Nearly every article on the victims (I don’t want to just say ‘every’ because I haven’t read them all, but at least all the ones I’ve seen) contained some information gleaned from the web:
Sullivan was celebrating his 27th birthday at the start of a weekend when he planned to also mark his first anniversary with his wife, Cassie. He tweeted shortly before the movie:
Once his death became public, the tweet morphed into a springboard for a steady stream of people noting its significance and sharing sentiments.
Ghawi then jokes that Spector is a loser, and he retorts that that’s why she’s tweeting and not at the movie. Ghawi replies with her final tweet, in all caps:
It was, though she of course didn’t realize it, her last public statement.
The reality that an anonymous shooting victim would have a ‘last public statement’ – would have any public statement, really – dawned as a shock to even this hardened veteran of the internet.
“Live every moment like it’s your last” is so last century. Today: write every tweet like it’s your last.
Some – like Marina Keegan, the Yale graduate who passed away days after publishing a good-bye column in the Yale Daily News – are lucky (given the circumstances, obviously) to leave behind a fitting digital legacy.
But others turn out like Patrice O’Neal:
I first encountered these ‘last words’ – indeed, I first encountered the concept of the Twitter memorial – in The New York Times’ year-end issue ‘The Lives They Lived‘, dedicated to those who passed within the preceding year.
As a memorial of sorts, I found the collection of tweets – arranged tastefully on the physical page – touching.
But the tweets featured by the Times were curated by public figures, and meant for public consumption. While their final tweets can help humanize celebrities and make their sudden passing more jarringly real, I’m uncomfortable applying those same journalistic tactics to those who might have realistically expected that their public statements would stay, for all intents and purposes, private.
If people truly internalized the lesson behind “write every tweet like it’s your last”, Twitter would become a ghost town (as it were) – either because people stopped using it, or because they turned their feeds over to a steady stream of inspirational quotes, Bible verses, and the like.
As for myself, these tragic victims – and other recent events IRL – have forced me to contemplate the possibility of my own sudden mortality. I hope and trust the day of reckoning will not arrive anytime soon, but it would be disingenuous to claim I didn’t just consider writing a pre-emptive goodbye post ready for publication, or some sort of ‘kill switch’ that would deactivate this blog, upon news of my unfortunate demise.
What if this was the final post ever published on Paper Treiger? That would certainly be ironic.
That any scrap of digital miscellany could become your self-eugoogly serves as a – healthy? unhealthy? uncomfortable – reminder that you just never know.
Veronica Moser, 6, Alexander Boik, 18, Micayla Medek, 23, Alexander C. Teves, 24, Jessica Ghawi, 24, Jonathan Blunk, 26, Alex Sullivan, 27, Matt McQuinn, 27, John Larimer, 27, Jesse E. Childress, 29, Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32, Gordon W. Cowden, 51.