We could not afford to lose David Carr.
And yet, we have.
After a particularly unsettling week for the jumble of journalism, entertainment, folly and possibility that we have come to call “media,” we are suddenly without the one ink-stained—or is it now “digit-damaged”—wretch who was better than any of the rest of us at making sense of it all.
The New York Times columnist on all things media, who died Thursday night at the absurdly young age of 58, waded into the greatest debates of our time with a warmth, humor and humility that belied his amazing ability to get to the heart of the matter—as he did in his final interview, just hours before his death, with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden.
What made Carr the necessary guide through an ever-expanding maze of conflicts and contradictions was not that he always knew the way. In an age of stupid certainty, and the cruel choices that extend from it, he reminded us to cling to our humanity as we explored the unknown together.
Jaron Lanier, the great examiner of our still-forming digital age, titled his book about these times: You Are Not a Gadget. David Carr, who sought to examine the whole of our media moment, understood the premise that we needed to master our new technologies—as opposed to being mastered by them. But he extended the notion to suggest a second premise: You Are Not a Troll.
Carr was as sharp-witted as they came. And he had an eye that recognized every fumble by media moguls, elite anchormen, neo-Luddites and digital utopians. Yet, instead of calling them out for the sake of calling them out, he sought to understand and, ultimately, to explain the economic and technological and human demands that have thrown journalism and media into a new paradigm that is not evolving but, rather, coming at us at speeds now measured in gigabits.
As one who had stumbled himself, and chronicled his fall and rise in a harrowing book on his own drug addiction, he was not so interested in passing judgment. He was interested in figuring it all out. But, even more than that, he was interested in reminding us that we are human beings and citizens—not gadgets and consumers—who must figure at least a few things out before we become so atomized and antagonistic that we will all stop making sense.