Tweeting and Grieving

140 characters has never sounded like enough to me.

But for Scott Simon, Twitter has become a concise space for reflection and reverence of his mother’s last hours in the ICU.

When I first heard about this spectacle, I was slightly appalled about the idea of invading the intimate and private space of the ICU with social media. But this article approached these tweets from a different perspective, suggesting instead that this embodies a more modern form of mourning. “The brevity and sequentiality of Twitter eerily evokes the reality of time, allowing us to witness an event” (O’Rourke).

As fascinating as this correlation between time and social media is, I believe that this statement is more eery to me than what it proposes. Perhaps it is my personal aversion from Twitter, but I disagree:  Twitter may give us a peek, but it does not enable our entire observation.

These tweets do not allow us to observe her death and its surroundings. We do not hear her breaths cease while the ICU continues to beep. We do not watch  stillness set in.

What I found to be unsettling was not the tweets themselves but rather the act of tweeting. It seems as though Twitter served as an outlet and a means of communication for Simon during his mother’s time in the ICU, a coping mechanism of sorts. I respect Simon’s choice to share his ICU experiences through Twitter. But even in 30 minutes after his mother’s death, Simon sent 3 tweets. Which means that he spent some time, maybe just a minute or so, looking at a screen and typing rather than being totally present with the loved ones around him.

It is inevitable that social media has become a space to share not only the joys and triumphs of life but also its trials and fumblings. But I wonder if this is the inherent trap to social media that we must recognize- it can become an obligation to others that draws us from the people physically around us. And with all the publicity that this happening has attracted, I was surprised to see how much of the attention has been centered around Scott Simon.

I guess I just wish that at the moment of her death, there had been more attention drawn to the person at the center of these tweets: his mother, Patricia Lyon Simon Newman.


Filed under Literary Narratives, Miscellaneous Musings, Voice

2 responses to “Tweeting and Grieving

  1. You picked a really good topic for this post. I think I’ll share it with my technical communication students this fall, in our discussion of which medium to choose for which message, within what context.

    If Simon had written the same content and posted it on his blog shortly after his mother passed, would it have received the same attention as his running commentary, his play-by-play updates? Would the sharing of Simon’s ICU experiences after the fact have been as unsettling as his real-time updates?

    Excellent post, very provocative.

    • Thanks, Katherine. I’m still struggling to gather my thoughts about this, and I appreciate your engagement with these ideas.

      I think your questions are exactly right. It seems to me that the real-time nature of his tweets contributed to the authenticity as well as the illusion that readers were experiencing the ICU with him. And this in-the-moment communication is what seems to have drawn so much attention and been so controversial.

      At the same time, retroactive reflection feels different. It is different. I wonder why this isn’t as unsettling to me– I think time plays a factor in considering the role of social media in intimate instances such as these.


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