What Do We Call It When Time Stops on the Web?

Sign: "Honorary Roger Ebert Blvd"

Sign: "Honorary Roger Ebert Blvd"

There are times when the internet stops – moments when, as far as the Twitterverse and the Facebook and so forth are concerned, there is only one thing happening in the world and everyone is weighing in about it.

Sometimes these are obvious – Newtown, for example – or when news broke about a covert mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Sometimes the news isn’t necessarily news, but it ends up being a huge deal on the web anyway – like Kevin Ware’s injury, or the power outage at the Super Bowl.

This is a particular phenomenon for which we have no word yet – at least as far as I can find. It’s not really a meme, because a meme isn’t bound up by time. And it’s not enough to call it a “big story” because a lot of these moments would be left out.

We had another of these moments yesterday when the Chicago Sun-Times announced that Roger Ebert had died, and that’s what made me think: maybe we should name these stopped-time moments in some way after Ebert.

It’s an idea – I’m not entirely convinced it’s the right idea, but here’s my thinking so far:

Because we need a term, first of all. But because Ebert, in recent years, was all over the web – cancer having taken his physical voice, he made his voice heard writing blog entries, tweets and, of course, hundreds of movie reviews.

But Ebert had not just an audience but a community – people who cared not just to know what he thought but felt like he cared what they thought too.

Also, because Ebert liked the idea of keeping his voice alive after death through memes: “After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many,” he wrote for Salon. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.”

Because Ebert said many times that he thought film helped people develop empathy, which he called “the most essential quality of civilization.” Whether we intend and realize it or not, we do come together when time stops on the internet, which helps set the stage for empathy.

And finally, because Ebert wrote a number of times about moments similar to these – he once said that while he was writing “my problems become invisible, and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.” In his final blog post he said that he was looking forward to finding, and writing about, “a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.”

I don’t know what the term to describe these moments would be… an Ebert? A Roger? I wouldn’t want to suggest anything that could somehow get misconstrued. I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert as a kid in Chicago, and so the idea of Chicago without Ebert…. I can’t quite get my head around that yet. These days I spend more time on the web than I do in Chicago, and the idea of web culture without Ebert doesn’t compute yet either. I just figure next time we drop everything to react to something that’s just happened, we should have a name for what we’re doing, and if naming those moments after Roger Ebert keeps his voice in the mix a little longer, so much the better.

What do you think? Right idea? Wrong idea? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

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Comments

  1. Pingback: {memories} | {bliss}

  2. Kathy Rubel

    Like! Two enthusiastic thumbs up. It should be an Ebert, but pronounced with a soft “ert” as in Stephen Colbert.

    The musical term fermata also comes to mind – it’s a long pause or a sustained holding of a note for longer than normal. A break in the normal rhythm of things.

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