NPR Host Live-Tweets His Mother’s Death — Highly Inappropriate or the New Normal?

"Weekend Edition Saturday" anchor Scott Simon gave his 1.2 million followers a glimpse of the his mother's last days

Losing a parent is, obviously, one of the most painful experiences one can endure. NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday" host Scott Simon chose to deal with that pain, in part, by live-tweeting from his mother's deathbed. Some saw it as a beautiful tribute to Simon's mother and a testament to the power of social networking. Others saw it only as a tribute to Simon's narcissism.

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Some tweets were funny; many were a frank description of what the end of life is really like. All were a glimpse into what most consider to be the last thing you'd want to share with the entire world.

Simon's not the first NPR employee to update his Twitter followers on the end of his parent's life. Andy Carvin, NPR's senior strategist, tweeted his mother's death last February, though he was not with her when she died. Unsurprisingly, Carvin agreed with Simon's live-tweets, writing:

It could have been a private moment between a mother, son and family, just as it almost always is for the vast majority of us. While we often share our grief with friends and colleagues after a loved one has passed and we've had some time to absorb our grief, Scott prepared himself by documenting his mother's final days on Twitter to his more than 1.2 million followers.

I found myself struck by Scott's honesty, humor and humanity as he tweeted the remaining days and hours he had with his mother.

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Mathew Ingram of GigaOm, who has long advocated Twitter's advantages as a community mobilizing and news-sharing tool, was also strongly in favor of Simon's tweets. Ingram himself live-tweeted from a friend's funeral last October (and then used it as article fodder), and thought Simon's tweets served as a similar tribute to his mother:

Some observers have questioned whether Simon’s use of Twitter during such an intensely personal time is appropriate, or whether it is somehow exploitative and crass – just as some questioned whether my live-tweeting of a friend’s funeral last year was appropriate. But I think what Simon is doing is a powerful statement not just about his own relationship to his mother and what she is going through, but also a moving commentary on death and the elderly.

In some ways, Simon's use of Twitter actually makes what he’s been doing from his mother's bedside a lot more personal than if he were broadcasting on the radio or doing a video report – something that would seem impersonal and gratuitous.

That said, I cannot recall an instance of someone broadcasting from his mother's deathbed.

B.J. Mendelson, author of "Social Media is Bullshit," had a much different take. After offering his condolences to Simon for his loss, he wrote: "I don't agree at all with the live tweeting of his mother's last moments on Earth. You know what? That’s messed up. You shouldn't do stuff like that." He added:

I'm not alone here raging against what I think is the final frontier of our own self-absorbed narcissism and love of technology above everything (and everyone) else.

In 2011, when we knew the end was coming for the man my ex-wife considers to be her hero, I left the iPhone at home. Tweeting about his death was the last thing on my mind. The man was a goddamn army hero during World War 2. Attention must be paid.

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It's not quite known how Simon's mother felt about the tweets. Simon posted that he wasn't sure if she understood the concept of Twitter, which begs the question of whether or not he asked her for her permission. On the other hand, she seemed comforted to know that Simon's followers were thinking of her:

Patricia Lyons Simon Newman died on Monday. She was 84 years old. Scott Simon is currently live-tweeting telling his daughters about their grandmother's passing and making funeral arrangements.

Simon gained about 30,000 followers over the time of his mother's illness.

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