Terry Shipman does not command a captive audience of 43 million. His sidekicks are a toy poodle and a Yorkie, respectively named Oreo and Max. But on Tuesday night, the 66-year-old civil engineer with 20 followers and a dream took a picture of himself and his pets and posted it on Twitter with a farfetched challenge: “Let’s see if we can beat the Oscar retweets!”

Shipman admittedly has a long way to go, but his picture has — miraculously! — been retweeted nearly 47,000 times in the 14 hours since he posted it at 7 p.m. Tuesday. And while that can’t exactly compete with Ellen DeGeneres’s record-breaking 3.2 million retweets, it’s a far better demonstration of Twitter’s organic power — and its often-manipulated, but still very real, ability to surprise and delight.

Shipman couldn’t be reached this morning; he’s at work, and as his daughter 21-year-old Laura tweeted, “he’s still a little confused on how to use Twitter.” But I reached Laura and her younger brother, J. Michael, by phone. This conversation has been edited for clarity and grammar.

Washington Post: So first off, can you guys tell me a little bit about your dad?

Laura: He’s a civil engineer … he’s 66. He has no idea how to use Twitter. He started the account pretty randomly, in order to keep up with news people, like Greta [Van Susteren, of Fox News — one of the seven people Terry follows]. He has a Facebook, he posts more selfies there. And he e-mails. He’ll text occasionally.

Is he a funny guy in real life?

J. Michael: [After a long pause] He can be funny, at times…

Laura: Would you say he’s old-fashioned?

J. Michael: Yeah. He’s pretty old-fashioned.

So what inspired him to snap that selfie?

Laura: I guess he got home for work early and just wanted to take a selfie with the dogs. I’m not even sure he watched the Oscars — I guess he watched a bit of it.

J. Michael: He might have watched parts.

Laura: He didn’t talk to us before he did it or anything. I was at Cracker Barrel eating pancakes at the time.

J. Michael: Yeah, me and my friend were at a Rockets game when he posted it. We both retweeted it and, you know, tweeted at some people asking them to retweet it. We thought we could get it to maybe 20 retweets. But then it just got bigger and bigger… even if it stops right here, it would be amazing.

How do you think that happened?

J. Michael: Some guy [prolific 17-year-old tweeter @IzNathan] messaged me and said he had a big account that tweeted it. He’s the guy who I think got it going.


Why do you think the Internet loves this picture so much?

Laura: I have no clue. Honestly, there’s really nothing special about it.

J. Michael: The Internet likes old men and puppies. That’s what people keep telling me. They like the dogs, and they like that he’s an old man.

Laura: And his mustache! They like it because of the mustache.

What’s the reaction been like to all this?

J. Michael: I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails, a lot of people on Twitter messaging me about it.

Laura: This is maybe my third interview. And our friends think this is really funny.

J. Michael: They never thought this would happen to anyone they knew … especially not our dad.