I pray that I may know the day and hour of my passing.
Not so I can skydive. Not so I can tell my family I love them.
So I can go through and delete my browser history. Delete, for that matter, all the Facebook posts I don’t want engraved on my tombstone. Delete the ill-advised tweets about bourbon and breakfast. Select a staid, respectable profile image of myself in a collared shirt, with a perfect plasticine smile, ready to be plunked into the newspapers.
I want, in short, the impossible.
Anyone who is confident in everything he posts on social media — Twitter, Tumblr, Myspace (maybe not Myspace, it’s hard to be confident of anything there) is either wrong or lying. There's always something. That quip that seemed so salient at the time now implies that you were unhealthily fixated on rabbits. The in-joke about playgrounds makes you sound like fodder for a Dateline special.
And now it’s happening to Trayvon Martin, the teenager shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
Trayvon Martin, the boy disappearing into his own legend and symbol faster than you can blink. He’s becoming a metaphor before his time. It’s a cruel thing to happen to anyone, especially a kid who’d just turned seventeen.
And now his Facebook page (the one I found, wall full of friends’ condolences, seems to have vanished) and Twitter account (the Daily Caller claims to have located it) are coming under the brutal scrutiny of the finger-pointers. There’s enough for them to make a meal. Of course there is. He was a teenager, the textbook definition of “someone not concerned that his job might later require elaborate background checks.”
I would say “Let the one who has never been a teenager cast the first stone,”but the stones have already been cast, and they’re flying thick and fast.
Whenever anything happens to anyone, everyone’s first cry is, “To the Facebook!” Pore through the posts on the wall and see what you can see. Glean what you can. Shape the casual words to fit your narrative. Thug or angel? Monster or victim? We talk so much and so publicly. It is easy to find something.
Kids are as indiscreet and as foolish and as occasionally wise as they ever were, but the medium is different. They make the same lame jokes. They strike the same lame poses. They are, in short, kids. But now there’s a permanent record. Remarks that no one else would have heard suddenly echo across the entire Internet. Embarrassing pictures your parents would have saved to spring on your fiancee now turn up on Google. If you recorded everything said in mall food courts a few decades ago, you’d come up with about the same result. But now we conduct the day-to-day business of friendships online. And so all our casual remarks, our lame, momentary jokes, those Stupid Things That Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time are etched in the unforgiving marble of the Internet.
Everything must be taken seriously. There is no inflection in printed text. You can’t hear the joking twist in the voice, the eagerness to please, the yearning to sound cool. It’s a shame. There are dozens of each of us. We talk to our parents one way, our friends another, our teachers yet another. We can go to summer camp as someone entirely different. The sassy tweets don’t make the caring son less real. All these selves are real. Some of them, we grow out of. Trayvon never had the chance to.
If Twitter had existed 2,000 years ago, we would have almost no saints. No one would have met the criteria for admission.
Twitter consists of the sustained delusion that people actually care what you might have to say, and it works a baleful magic on otherwise level heads. Combine it with the already potent cocktail of hormones and invincibility that marks the teenage years, and it’s well-nigh impossible to withstand. You let everything hang out. And woe to you when you pass and there it is, on display for everyone to pick through.
Dave Weigel said it well – this account changes nothing about what happened.
Even if it is real (I think it might be; having been a teenager myself, I find it more likely that a kid would have hidden a social media account from his parents than not have had one at all) it doesn’t matter. The real story is what happened to him.
Of course he was innocent. He'd just turned 17.
“Nobody is perfect,” his mother told me and a group of Post reporters. “Absolutely nobody in this world is perfect. Of course he was going to make mistakes. He was a minor. He was a lovable kid. The positive outweighs the negative. This was a good kid. This was a kid with a future and dreams that was taken away from us too soon.”
That’s what matters.