Folks, I’m mad as hell this morning. It’s my fault. I have the day off and I told myself I was going to get some extra zzzzs this morning, but when my husband roused me with a goodbye kiss at 7, I rolled over and looked at my phone.
Waiting for me there was an odd text message from my sister. “Oh my god I want to die.”
I texted her back immediately and told her to please expound, but it was 7:00 in the morning, and this message had come the night before. Naturally, the only way to check that she was still alive, was to go to Facebook.
The good news, my sister is still alive and well, and the text message was unrelated to her actual desire to live. The bad news? Facebook got me.
Facebook got me with Franzen (shakes fists at the heavens). Franzen. I thought this meme died weeks ago. But here he is again in the Atlantic.
I can barely muster the energy to argue with this man and his love of moral certitude.
But I will try.
I am a writer and reader of fiction. I love it. It is an amazing art form. I do not however, operate under any illusion that the novel saves the world. It makes lives better, it improves our ability to empathize. Fiction is awesome. But a) do I think the internet is REALLY a threat to it? and b) do I give it as much power as Franzen. The answer to both is a resounding no. In fact, storytelling is innate to our being. Just because we change the medium doesn’t mean it dies. Listen, I got my MFA at the height of the “novel is dead” panic. It’s still not dead. I still read from paper books. And I think technology making literacy more possible is great, even if that means I have to read some illiterate’s Gawker comment or Yahoo question in the process. I mean, we wouldn’t have this if it weren’t for the terrible combination of idiocy and the internet:
But seriously, maybe that person came from a very sheltered family and didn’t know about baby making — and maybe, just maybe “kavya” also learned to read on the internet — or is just learning English. Because sometimes we like to write people off as stupid when they are just stretching their linguistic boundaries. Have you stretched yours lately? (Franzen majored in German, so we know he does.)
That is ultimately my problem with Franzen’s quasi-luddite rants: they’re sooooooo….presumptuous. So sure of everyone else’s purpose and experience, when the variety of experiences on and uses of the medium of the internet is vast, nearly infinite. Yes, a good percentage of people on the internet are watching porn, it’s true, but Franzen’s characterization of the use of the medium is so narrow. And it is without acknowledgement of the (possibly small) breadth of Franzen’s own use (and understanding) of the internet. For example, he says:
But the Internet in general—and social media in particular—fosters this notion that everything should be shared, everything is communal.
Really Franz, is that what the internet is telling you? You must be a privileged fellow if it speaks so directly to you. I suppose the first time you walked into a public square you took your clothes off because that was the notion it fostered?
The notion it fosters is the notion you subscribe to by virtue of the people you surround yourself with in the digital space. You obviously hang out with old people who don’t know how to use Facebook and have public meltdowns on it instead of, I don’t know, posting funny gifs of white people dancing badly or that awesome piece about Dave Chapelle (<–it is indeed awesome and you should really be reading it instead of any of Franzen’s rants, or this rant about his rant).
What really gets my goat is that somehow, in all of this, Franzen also gets to decide what is human and what is not. This is ridiculous. Frankly, the stuff that’s happening on the internet–the good and the bad, all of it– is human. There is nothing outside of our humanity on the internet. You just don’t like what you see, and I can understand that.
Sorry that housewives are reading your novel, JFranz, that’s just terrible.
Look, at the end of his rant, Jonathan Franzen admits that this is all really about limiting intake of the medium, and I respect that.
And again, the Internet and social media are so seductive, are so immediately gratifying in that addictive-substance way, that you can get carried away from yourself rather easily….we have to start to identify undesirable aspects of technological development and say no to them.
Agreed. Absolutely, I will give you that John. But why use that as an excuse to disparage a medium that has no force behind it but humanity? Why follow Karl Kraus down his anti-technology rabbit hole. I mean, that man lived in the 20th century, a time during which some of the best things came of technology. Here’s a short list:
Discovery of the bacterium that causes whooping cough
Cure for Rickets
Cure for Scarlet Fever
Cure for Strep
Pap smear, for uterine cancer
I’ll stop at beer can. Because that’s great! The 20th Century was great! And technology was not a problem. The 21st Century is crazy, it’s true, but technology is not the problem. We are.
You know what, Jonathan, I’ll give you this: there is one thing on the internet that has been a threat to the completion of my novel. Just one thing that might very well ruin my chances of winning a Pulitzer:
You and this long diatribe about how terrible the internet is! And yet that is where I read this piece by you and where I linked to it and where you will generate the sales for your latest book. The internet says you are worth somewhere around $70 million. I am not sure if that is true, but if it is, I can guarantee that the evil internet helped you get there.
(You see what I just did there? I pulled a Franzen on you Franzen. I blamed you for something that was completely under my control.)