Before yesterday morning no one had ever heard of Gregg Jevin, literally no one. But within hours of the announcement of his death, his life and death were separately in the top four of the most widely tweeted topics around the English-speaking world. It could be said that Twitter created Gregg Jevin. Indeed it would be accurately said, as that is exactly what happened.
At about 9 o’clock yesterday morning, a comedian called Michael Legge twet (in the spirit of Gregg Jevin, I have just made that word up) as follows:
Sad to say that Gregg Jevin, a man I just made up, has died. #RIPGreggJevin
This set in train an apparently unstoppable stream of tributes, reminiscences and faux grief that soon saw Jevin being mentioned in news bulletins on BBC radio, and as a phenomenon by a variety of news sources. The RadioTimes twitter account announced a ‘Schedule update: 9.30pm tonight on BBC2, the tribute programme, Oh Well, Never Mind: The Gregg Jevin Story.’ It also announcing the reshowing of a number of Jevin’s films such as ‘Tears from a Face’.
Waterstones Oxford announced the hurried release of a number of biographies, and the Royal Albert Hall tweeted to Legge that ‘Tickets for the Gregg Jevin memorial concert here are likely to go on sale in the coming weeks.’
Summing up this phenomenon with staggering economy, an artist named Moose Allain tweeted: ‘If Gregg Jevin could see all the tributes pouring in, he would have been made up.’
Gregg Jevin reflects all sorts of things about the way the world has changed: for instance, the very public way in which people now mourn for those they don’t know and have never met, who are, as grieved over by the general public, media creations. Today felt almost as though satire was catching up on fourteen and a half years of lost time. Rather more interestingly, though, it indicates why Tim Berners-Lee will most likely be remembered as making a contribution to the future of humanity comparable with that of Johannes Gutenberg.
It is increasingly banal to suggest that the internet has changed the world. It is hard to argue with that - this morning as well as being bewitched by the unfolding story of Gregg Jevin, I interviewed a potential student for Oak Hill face to face although I was in my study in North London and he was in Singapore. The simple phenomenon of fast, long-distance communication with already existing networks of people, is, however, as nothing compared to the change being driven by media such as Twitter. The former is just a better version of what we used to be able to do: the latter is something almost entirely new.
Consider Gregg Jevin, a phenomenon that spread worldwide in hours, and took on a life of its own. Michael Legge was not, yesterday morning, particularly influential in Twitter terms; he had 10,000 followers (compare this to Graham Linehan, writer of Father Ted with 159,207 – let alone Stephen Fry, with nearly 4 million), yet his idea flashed around the world making connections with people who had never heard of him or even of the people who had heard of him and repeated his joke or built on it with their mock condolences and memories. Ideas can now spread in an unprecedented fashion and at an unprecedented speed.
For that reason you if you are familiar with Twitter you will know that those with large followings are often able to solicit help with remarkably technical questions and receive pretty much instantaneous expert help and advice. This is part of a phenomenon sometimes called ‘crowdsourcing’, but I like to think of it as the web acting like a giant brain.
Yesterday, Twitter was writing comedy and it did it frighteningly well, with hundreds of thousands of punchlines generated with the best being ‘retweeted’ by others so that the cream naturally rose to the top. A similar phenomenon is ‘Star Wars uncut’ in which a group of people divided the movie into 15 second chunks and then invited participants to refilm that clip in whatever way they chose. The full version can now be viewed online.
It seems to me that these sorts of developments, trivial though they might be, represent the beginnings of the way that the internet might reshape the way we think and relate in a way that is genuinely qualitative as well as quantitative. That is that we might find ourselves not just receiving information more quickly and easily, but in new ways. In that sense, Gregg Jevin might just be a stormy petrel.
Now you might just be thinking that there’s nothing very theological about this post and that ‘he doesn’t seem to have much space left to change that’. You might think that and you’d be right, but consider this piece as a sort of extended introduction to a number of others that will follow. If you have suggestions about the lines along which those pieces might go, you can contact me @njctucker on Twitter.