May 30th, 2011 / 12:07 am
Random & Web Hype

Franzen v. Internet v. Love v. Iskandrian

Someone I dearly love alerted me to this op-ed which ran yesterday in the NYTimes. At the grave risk of preaching to the converted I want to say a few things about it.

Firstly you can tell that it’s adapted from a commencement address by its tone and formula: anecdote –> problem –> platitudinous conclusion –> problem –> anecdote –>uplifting proposal/solution. To be honest I had difficulty getting through the whole thing, and kind of skipped around, trying to find some craggy edge, some trembling moment of uncertainty or complexity that I could hook on to and feel in my skin. I couldn’t find any, so I went back and read the thing from beginning to end and still couldn’t find any.

The thing is, though, he says a few things about love that I guess are maybe valid. I think about love all the time. I could talk about “the problem of actual love,” as Franzen calls it, all day long. He’s right that love hurts, is messy, demands surrender. But what he is drawing here is the binary we’ve all grown so tired of, a two-sided speculum that probes the mushy, fleshy stuff of real life and real relationships on one end and the contrived, digitized personae of social media on the other. He also talks about birds, which fits neatly into the essay’s schematics: on one hand, or in it, rather–cold, consumerist technology; the sleeker, faster phone–and on the other hand, what’s this?–another hand, a grasping, human hand, gesturing toward the bird, the fluttering embodiment of Love and Nature.

He writes: “My aim here is mainly to set up a contrast between the narcissistic tendencies of technology and the problem of actual love.”

He writes: “There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.”

I think we’ve all faced ourselves after a maybe late night or lonely-day ‘liking’ binge and felt a tad gross. But I don’t know that anyone, even your dad or great aunt or any other type of person on the internet, confuses ‘liking’ something on Facebook with loving someone existentially. So at this point I’m wondering what he’s going on about.

We are so many selves, is the real problem, if it is a problem.

It’s an easy leap to make when you’re standing in front of hungover, starry-eyed graduates–that leap from the thing they do 27 times a day with their fingers (not that one, the other one) and the thing they think of as having a capital “L.” Franzen is playing fast and loose and Keatsian–you ‘like,’ o feckless youth, but can you Love–and he’s also missing an opportunity to dig more deeply into this thing of love, to get past all of this obvious flesh (the fighting! the rejection! the transcendence!) and etch something into its very bone.

Because: love exists online too. I think I fall in love a dozen times a day online, with words, with images, with ideas. What Franzen is talking about when he talks about love is the same kind of love, seemingly, that we recognize and understand through so many of the “consumerist” channels that are besties, if not parents, of the ones he’s impugning. Sitcom love. Rom-com love. Domestic, monogamous love. Roommate love. He’s a writer, and he’s giving no consideration whatsoever to the love that is real that is the love of art and thought and moment and aura and trace.

The “in real life” predicate looms temptingly, yes, but it’s not so straightforward, is it. Sometimes, we read a book and wonder about its author, as we glance at a Facebook profile and wonder about its owner, try to glimpse from this photo or that status update something “else,” something “further.” Sometimes we sit next to a person we’ve known and loved for years and try to glean the same thing.

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  1. 40belowtrooper


  2. Anonymous
  3. Penelope Cruz

      this is really great 

  4. Samuel

      This is percolating, along with a few relevant conversations I’ve had with someone I love. I like it.

  5. postitbreakup

      Considering how sore Franzen is about being compared
      unfavorably to Wallace, I’m surprised that he would agree to give a
      commencement speech at Kenyon.


      Anyway, I understand distrusting binaries like “online
      vs real life” or “love and not love.”  I also can sympathize with the urge to assert
      the validity and importance and “realness” of online interactions to
      dismissive skeptics.


      But while binaries may be offensively simplistic when adhered
      to rigidly, isn’t it just as simplistic an argument to criticize a thesis
      solely because it doesn’t include every possible exception to it?  What I mean is, it seems like you are
      dismissing Franzen’s overall point simply because he didn’t include a caveat
      like, “I must admit that sometimes you *can* have good
      conversations/genuine interactions online; also, if you extend the definition
      of love far enough, then of course you can ‘fall in love with’ pictures and
      blog posts.”  I don’t think there’s
      anything wrong with him 1) making a generalization about online interactions for
      the sake of argument, and 2) picking a more narrow sense of the word
      “love” (the intimate, committed kind) to use in his particular


      (I also don’t understand how you got
      “sitcom”/”rom-com” love from what he’s saying, when he specifically
      included the paragraph about hating the wedding industry etc and
      commercialization of love.  I think
      Franzen would say that romantic comedies are the exact opposite of the kind of
      love he’s talking about, because romantic comedies are ultimately about the
      narcissistic wish fulfillment he’s writing against.  Just because you would rather use the word
      “love” in a broad way that can apply to words/pictures doesn’t mean
      that Franzen’s narrower use of love as “domestic and monogamous” is
      somehow automatically commercial.  And just
      because there are depictions of love on television and in films (but again, I
      think that Franzen would detest most romantic comedies, from what he’s saying
      here) doesn’t turn make that love somehow exclusive to those commercial realms
      (and there are love stories in fiction, too, so…).)


      He writes,

      “Let me toss out the idea that, as our markets discover
      and respond to what consumers most want, our technology has become extremely
      adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic
      relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives
      everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn’t throw
      terrible scenes when it’s replaced by an even sexier object and is consigned to
      a drawer.”


      He’s not, in my reading, saying that the internet is a big
      wasteland and completely devoid of meaningful interactions.  He’s warning the audience about a culture of
      instant gratification and wondering how that might potentially poison


      Imagine if you (general hypothetical you) dealt with a real
      friend the way people act online.  If
      your partner came home with good news and instead of hugging him/her and
      expressing sincere congratulations, you lifted a pictograph of a “thumbs
      up” or said “like” or “+1” and went back to your
      screen.  Or if your partner relayed a bad
      day in extreme length and you said “TL;DR” or “awww” and held up
      a picture of a cat.  Cruel, right?  Yet this is what a lot of social interaction
      is like now, as it becomes more and more common to deal with people exclusively


      Countering Franzen with the fact that some small minority of
      online interactions in fact are loving and thoughtful is like countering a
      report about the obesity epidemic with, “that doesn’t matter (and the
      author of the study is overly simplistic/binaristic), because my friends and I
      are vegans in excellent shape.” 
      That’s great for the small minority, but that doesn’t mean the culture
      at large isn’t dying off (or un/underemployed or in debt or whatever example
      you like).


      You acknowledge in your last sentence, and I agree, that it
      can be impossible to know someone completely even after being beside them and
      with them for years.  But just because
      that problem is inherent in all human interaction–just because we’re all, by
      nature of our existing in separate bodies with our own senses, ultimately
      isolated–doesn’t mean that tools like Facebook don’t magnify that problem
      tremendously . . .  and I think *that* is
      what Franzen’s argument is, moreso than some kind of “internet bad and
      shallow” treatise.  I.e., yes, it’s
      hard enough to get to know someone when you’re living with them, but it’s much,
      much harder when you have the option to self-select only the information you
      personally would enjoy processing in only the Tweet-sized form that’s
      convenient to you in between blog posts/games of Farmville.  Don’t want to hear about their day/family
      woes/pet’s death?  Scroll on past, head
      to their photo album instead.  Make up
      the version of the person that suits you.


      And we do this to ourselves as much as other people,
      creating profiles that are essentially lists of favorite media/products and
      whichever facts we’re proudest of. 
      People have always done this in person, too, of course–dressing up a
      certain way or wearing a band T-shirt or whatever—but at least there’s a person
      standing there interacting with you. 
      Facial expressions and body language and the intimacy of being next to
      someone and, if you’re with someone long enough, simply seeing how they respond
      to other situations that come up—all of that’s way more revealing than the band
      t-shirt that helped form your first impression. 
      But now, all we have are first impressions—the same profile/homepage
      whether it’s your sister looking or the guy you picked up at a bar.  These fanatically updated first impression
      landing pages, little shrines to our best possible selves.  Like me, like me, like me.


      Not only does this sort of online interaction promote skewed
      perceptions of people, it downgrades people from individuals into just another
      tab of data.  The browser as great
      equalizer.  Like yeah there’s that
      heartfelt letter from your mom in one tab, but after years and years and years
      and years of this technologic saturation—maybe you’re already feeling it now,
      maybe it won’t be for several more generations, who knows—it’s hard to see Mom’s
      tab as any more pressing than the Sudoku you’ve got in another tab and the Jezebel
      article you’re reading in a third tab and oh look your vacation photo just got “liked”
      and oh The Rumpus updated.  They’re all
      just tabs.  Words and pictures.  Depersonalized.


      Another example: The greeting card industry is bad enough—like,
      “I can’t think of something to say so let me purchase this pre-written
      expression and you need to accept it as love—but now we’re applying that to
      every single interaction.  Pressing
      “like” on a post instead of answering it is just as bad as resorting
      to Hallmark, but before this technology glut, people would only send cards once
      in awhile.  Now it’s easier to send a
      “card” (like, vote, re-tweet, animated GIF/meme) than ever before,
      and more people are doing it, for everything. 
      As long as this is “in addition to” genuine interaction and
      not “instead of” it, then we’d be fine . . .  but I don’t see we as a culture putting the
      brakes on this trend anymore than we did on “oh I want to take a polluting
      car everywhere because it’s easier and fun” or “I want fast food
      because it’s fast” etc etc.  We
      already want to plant our housing developments and shopping malls everywhere
      and drive to them whenever the hell we want at whatever cost and have our food fast
      but personalized to our specifications (“have it Your way”), now we’re applying
      this same lovely narcissistic consumerism to human relationships.


      I know this all sounds reactionary and it’s easy to fire
      back “well I can personally be interested in that letter from my mom
      regardless of what else I have open” or “I only read one thing at a
      time online and I met my very best friend on a blog” or “oh it’s just postitbreakup,
      again with Franzen. . .”,  but I don’t
      think any of Franzen’s concerns (which I share). 


      Think about how a lot of people feel desensitized to
      violence because it’s on TV all the time, or are scared to let their kids play
      outside because of all the frightening sensationalized news stories (not to say
      that the “real” news isn’t frightening enough).  And that’s just from having the TV on all the
      time for a few generations.  *Of course*
      this ever-growing substitution of online interaction for “in person”
      (I won’t say “real life”) interaction is going to have some kind of awful
      impact.  We probably won’t have any idea
      what it is for years and years, but I think Franzen’s on the right track: a
      bunch of narcissists going over and over their profiles to make sure they present
      the most likable version of themselves who would rather click buttons than
      interact and receive every communication in small non-intimate chunks.

  6. Anonymous

      Damn it, that’s what I get for pasting from Word.  I finally caved and registered an account so hopefully I’ll be able to edit it if something like that happens again.  Sorry.

  7. IsAllAboutAttack

      I read the Franzen article and the thoughtful responses from
      K Iskandrian and postitbreakup above. Thank you both. I wanted to write a direct,
      more considered response but the thoughts kept becoming prolix, unwieldy.

      The internet is a large, interesting thing.

      I took a break and went downstairs for coffee.

      It is morning where I am and my kiwi housemate is in her
      pyjamas in the sitting room downstairs, silently clicking through the status
      updates of her loved ones on the other side of the world. There is a photo
      album from a recent night out her friends back home had without her. She is dutifully
      applying the ‘like’ button to the more interesting pictures, to let her friends
      know she has seen them. It is a kind of mourning, a kind of observance.

      The expression on her face makes me think of an updike
      line from a story, about a guy out washing his car – the narrator says of the
      activity (and I’m paraphrasing) that it was ‘more absorbing than pleasant or

      Later my kiwi housemate will upload pictures from a night
      out she had with her friends on this
      side of the world. I was part of that night out, and like many nights out it
      was regularly punctuated by the flash of handheld devices’ cameras – everyone dutifully
      documenting the night, already anticipating its end, preparing to preserve it
      in an online photo album – and the foreknowledge that it would be preserved,
      that other facebook friends would go through the pictures even now being taken
      and would hit ‘like’ and make comment, no doubt added an extra layer of
      gratification to the night itself, as it actually played out, for once and once
      only, in the world.


      But I am being presumptuous. I don’t know. Perhaps she and
      the others found documenting the night a chore, but still felt compelled to do
      it, so that there is proof to her absent friends that she exists, still, and is
      living, though of course abstractly they know she is. But I didn’t think to ask,
      whether it was chore-ful or not.  
      The internet is a repository
      but also a reliquary. All that is uploadable can be placed in there, pixilated
      and jpeg’d like some pristine, bloodless form of taxidermy; our favorite photos,
      music, thoughts, books–and ourselves too, to a very limited degree- can be set
      free of the temporal degradations that necessarily afflict everything in the material

      Though not really. 

      It is sometimes saddening
      to click through the hundreds of pictures my more enthusiastic facebook friends
      put up. Pictures of their latest tattoo, pictures of them drunkenly lapping
      tequila out of someone’s navel, making posey faces, cradling their infant. Pictures
      of them being; and each lived moment
      being instantly yielded up to posterity, instantly posthumized, as it were. We
      are curating our own lives, online, turning them into memorials to themselves.
      Time will catch up and turn the profiles to crypts. 

  8. Scott mcclanahan

      I like this too.

  9. Anonymous

  10. Anonymous
  11. Anonymous

  12. Guestagain

      I enjoyed all of this, including the comments, and very much agree that Franzen missed an opportunity to dig more deeply into a more worthwhile discussion. He is using social networks, technology, and consumerism as a foil for what could have been a more expansive and interesting examination of public vs. private personality. Narcissism vs. commitment to another is a choice condition that existed before the internet. In a commitment, you do lose something of yourself, love is asynchronous, compromising, and an “existential threat” where three lives need to be managed and nurtured over easily controlled appearances for the sake of self interest and gratification. There is also a confusion or cross stitching of passionate love for an enthusiasm/avocation (bird watching) and Love. I also can’t help but add to that hip, snarky The Different Types of People on the Internet list – People who use social networks and do not realize everything is being scanned, archived, cross referenced, and harvested for other purposes.

  13. adrian

      Kristen, you hit the nail on the head when you said “We are so many selves, is the real problem…” Franzen doesn’t have a real self, so he doesn’t know how to write about one. He is played out, tired, overblown (or perhaps not), done…

      I think Franzen has blown his load, and he is now in that secondary stage that biology requires of “the little death” — namely: tired, lethargic, without any new ideas, content to watch hummingbirds, like my grandparents did on their front porch before they kicked off into the Great Beyond. I read “How to Be Alone,” his book of essays from 2003, and kind of enjoyed it, but even then, the bitchiness and the whining got to me, discolored the shared experience between reader and writer. As for his fiction, I have tried to read it, can’t, and have since moved on.

      Now that Franzen’s cerebral sparring partner is dead, RIP Mr. Wallace, Franzen has nowhere to go, and it’s very sad and pathetic to watch Franzen as he attempts to stumble down the same roads that Wallace treaded so lightly on. Franzen needs to do us all a favor, and disappear, keep his mouth shut, for a good ten years. No more, done, finito. Then, if he wants to release an Amazon single, a la William T. Vollmann, then ok, fine. But not before 2020 or so. Please, Franzen, do the decent thing — take a ten year break, regroup, watch, listen, learn, observe, and learn how to keep your mouth shut. You could learn a lot from the career of Jeffrey Eugenides, a two novel author who is, quite frankly, your superior. Other than his novels, I know next to nothing about Eugenides, and that’s as it should be. He understands that part of the writer’s job is to separate himself/herself from the work, so that the work stands alone, and the writer becomes secondary, a ghost in the shadows. Please, Franzen, shut up and take a lesson from Padre Joyce:  “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” 

  14. Anonymous
  15. deadgod

      I agree with you, postitbreakup:  Kristen’s debunking of the essay is unhelpfully ungenerous.  While he cuts corners – for instance, “liking” is much less a “lie” than it is a ‘partial truth’ – , Franzen compresses qualifications out of his line of thought in a conversationally normal way.  He’s telling college graduates ‘to take chances on their passions’ — surely not a dangerous misunderstanding of The Human Condition, but rather, a harmlessly anodyne push away from the security of externally regulated goal-direction (= ‘college’).

      But, as adrian says below – in an even more unhelpfully ungenerous response to the essay – , Kristen’s main qualification is more interesting than Franzen’s gist – I’d bet:  even to Franzen – :  ‘a self’ is intrinsically and ineluctably plural.  Technology – whether it’s a sharp stick or a supercomputer plugged into the forehead – might enable unjust accumulation or even encourage hostility to “love”, but, even more fascinatingly (?), technology flows from and, in dialectical turn, engineers the polyvalence of anthrwpos (‘a person’).

  16. deadgod

      a narcissist — a person who […] either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable

      You make Franzen sound – on his own terms – like a successful “narcissist” and a terribly failed person:  much more interesting than it sounds like he sounds to you.

      I haven’t read all or, I guess, even most of Wallace.  Where does he tread lightly??

  17. Jfranz

       hey adrian it’s me. thanks for the advice. i’ll think on it for awhile and get back to you. see ya! – Jon

  18. jtc

      seems the problem is that when technology is consumer-oriented, it becomes very easy to turn that technology into a mask that hides the plurality, the polyvalence, of a person, even from that person herself.

      also, postit – thank you. i liked your post so much, i wanted to like it, then sign out and relike it. i want you to have all the likes.

  19. Jason Plein

      I have friends who have moved to other cities, other countries, other continents, and Facebook has given me a way to communicate with them in a semi-public space shared with other friends and family. Emails and phone calls and IMs and text messages are private; comments on friends’ Facebook walls or photos or whatever are semi-public; you see your friends’ responses and they see yours. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like they’re really all that far away, and when they come back to visit it’s easy to start where we left off.

      My wife and I tell each other things which are superficial and trivial: I have a headache, traffic was miserable, she had a sandwich for lunch. Small talk is social lubricant; when you listen to someone’s trivial complaint or story of a small victory you are telling her that you care about her complaint and, by extension, about her. The time my wife and I spend talking about trivialities makes it easier for us to talk about things which are more important. It would be bizarre to imagine a relationship in which every conversation was about something important, in which nothing was said except things like “I love you” or “I have cancer”. Most interactions on Facebook can similarly be called trivial or superficial, but that does not necessarily mean that they are unimportant.

      I won’t try to answer the question of whether social media is good or bad, but my own experience of it is as a supplement to, not a replacement for, interaction in person. Whether that’s true for most people is something that could be answered, in theory, through research, but I don’t think anyone’s actually tried to do so.

  20. deadgod

      it is irritating that franzen needed to say “my friend alice sebold” and not simply “alice sebold”

      irritating in a facebookish way

      – unless alice sebold is puzzled by or even disputes the status “friend”-of-franzen; then it’s _________

  21. MarkC

      I think I disagree. it’s easy to loathe what Franzen says (and like you, adrian, I most often find myself disagreeing with him), but I like what he’s talking about. I like that it’s so easy to disagree with him and that it allows people to engage with his work, sort of like what Kristen did here.

      And I do think Franzen have a real self. It’s just a very self-obsessive and pompous self. I don’t think that makes him any less real.

      What I really want to say, though, is that I love Kristen’s response. That last paragraph about the complicated ways in which we like/love a person (online or offline) is really spot-on.

  22. Anonymous

  23. Anonymous
  24. William VanDenBerg

      “We are so many selves, is the real problem, if it is a problem.”
      Excellent job getting to a point in a sentence that Franzen muddles at for half an essay. 

  25. jtc

      I get the impression that the point she hit doesn’t have all that much to do with what Franzen is saying.

      Like, if Franzen wrote an article about two types of authors a person might become. You don’t want to be A; you want to be B. Or, at least, you should want to be B.

      And then someone comes along and says, well wait, we’re way more complicated than that.

      And then Franzen says, Yeah, Okay. But, that wasn’t really my point.

      As for me, I found the essay to be insightful. Considering the issue at hand is one I’ve been semi-obsessed with lately, I would like to have evidence of its unoriginality. Seems to be a pretty good essay, at least in terms of content. Form-wise, maybe it’s typical, but it did seem like Franzen was offering a similar, but more nuanced, unique, and smart, way of looking at the issue.

  26. William VanDenBerg

      I do think “we’re way more complicated than that” is a valid way to criticize an argument.  What I got out of Kristen’s argument was that Franzen didn’t appreciate the complexity of the subject he’s dealing with.  

  27. Anonymous

      So who decides which ideas are acceptable to discuss in a commencement address and which warrant an entire dissertation?  Couldn’t good writers talk about the same issues (in different but equally valuable ways) in any length or form they choose?  I think it’s kind of elitist to suggest otherwise, no?

      But somehow I suspect that even if Franzen had written a wall of dissertations that absolutely addressed every way in which “we’re way more complicated than that,” he would still be Frazen, so his argument would be blindly praised by some and blindly dismissed by others.  I don’t think it’s Franzen’s argument that’s problematic for a lot of people, or his choice to present that argument as a commencement speech, but simply Franzen himself.

      I loved The Corrections and enjoyed Freedom, but I’ll freely admit that when I’ve seen him in the media he appears snobby and self-satisfied, especially in comparison to Wallace who just radiated vibes of saintly genius in his interviews.  Outside of an academic context, I don’t think I would have much fun talking to or having coffee with him.  But I don’t let that color my enjoyment of the novels, or my appreciation for his arguments when–as I think is the case with this commencement address–they are both valid and fascinating.

      Other people clearly do let his public perception color everything, such as in this obnoxious, dismissive write-up.

  28. Anonymous


      Where do you find merit for the accusation that Franzen “doesn’t have a real self” in an essay about how he wants all of us–including himself–to care more about others and less about our self-image, to express unconditional love to others and to nature?  You might not *Like* Franzen’s “real self” but you have no justification for saying he lacks one.
      I didn’t like every essay in “How to be Alone” either, and I have no interest in his novels before The Corrections.  I guess the “bitchiness and whining” you’re referring to was in those essays?  Or are you talking about characters in his fiction whining?  Or what are you talking about, there?If you simply don’t like an author, that’s fine–that’s everyone’s prerogative.  It’d be a boring world if we all had the same tastes.  But why do you have to call Franzen “sad and pathetic” for simply continuing working in his field (he is a writer), and why would he be expected to stop working just because his friend committed suicide?

      I think Franzen doesn’t need to do anything.  If you personally don’t want to read any Franzen for ten years, or the rest of your life, great.  But who are you to suggest that he should “shut up”?

      In your closing, about Eugenides, you talk about how you enjoy that he keeps the author separate from his work, but that’s really more of the reader’s issue, I think.  I mean, you certainly could find interviews with Eugenides–I could link you to some–and you could look up his biography and he would no longer be separate from his work.  Vice versa, you could also pick up The Corrections, not read the author bio, not go to Youtube to find Oprah clips, not click on articles/blog posts about Franzen, and that same separation would be there.

      Again, you’re acting like Franzen dragged you personally to the television to watch his Oprah appearance (he was excoriated for NOT appearing the first time and excoriated again for appearing the second time!) or dragged you to Kenyon college and strapped you into a Clockwork Orange style machine for the duration of this commencement address.  If you HATEHATEHATE Franzen sooooo much, just don’t read his writing or his press.  And consider calming down, maybe.

  29. Anonymous

      Yeah, I’d like an answer to this point as well.  DFW treading lightly?  What…?

  30. Anonymous

      Thank you jtc, I was feeling kinda ridiculous when I woke up this morning and had expended 1500 words on an internet forum again, but you and deadgod and the discussion that has ensued have made it all worth it.

  31. Anonymous

      I think Franzen would absolutely agree that we are plural in nature, and have been forever (one person when I hunt, another when I’m mate-selecting; one person at the office, another with my sister; etc etc).  

      I’m going to venture further (I wish we could just ask him ourselves) and guess that he would consider this plurality to be a gateway to narcissism, too.  Maybe even though he was focusing on technology in this address, if we asked him about, say, run of the mill hypocrites (maybe someone acting all pious and judgmental who’s a closet sinner, etc) he’d say that’s just like making an online profile to receive likes.  Putting out an artificial self.  Like, it’s not that technology has invented this plurality–>narcissism problem, it’s that pluralities have always led to narcissism and now technology (by quadrupling the number of pluralities we all have, from “one at home/one with family/one with lover” to “one on facebook, one on HTMLGiant, one with this group of Facebook friends who can see some of my content, one with this other group of Facebook friends etc etc) just quadruples the narcissism that would have resulted anyway.

      (if that makes any sense at all.  i always worry that i’m not making any sense.)

  32. Anonymous

      That was truly beautiful.  Wow.

      I love the Updike quote you tied in–I feel that way about a lot of my time spent online, it’s not pleasant or unpleasant, just absorbing.

      And I think (along with being such a pleasure to read), it brought up several insightful points.  Franzen mostly discussed the online identities as they related to while we’re sitting at the computer, but as you point out, people now hold events almost just so they can document them on their Facebook memorial/crypts.  Reminds me of the common internet reply, “Pics or it didn’t happen.”  Like our experiences are less legitimate if they are not online.

      And yes, one day all these self-memorials will literally be crypts.

      Haunting.  Great post. Read like poetry.

  33. Anonymous

  34. kristen iskandrian

      i appreciate your comment(s), and agree with much of what you’re writing here. mostly, i just wanted to agitate some of the essay’s more simplistic claims, and hear others respond, too, which you’ve done very thoughtfully. 

  35. kristen iskandrian

      i don’t feel i was ‘ungenerous,’ but that’s ok.

  36. Kristen Iskandrian

      i didn’t intend to denigrate franzen; the essay could’ve been written by anyone and i would have had the same response. my feelings about his books and especially his personality are irrelevant. i saw a neatly made bed and wanted to mess it up a little.

      thanks for all your comments. it seems many of us are thinking about these things.

  37. alanrossi

      real self and its particles versus many selves.  unreal self or maybe it’s no-self or again even no no-self. okay, i still will vacuum up pet hair while my wife sits with her legs up.  all the self talk here feels like a merely verbal dispute.  enjoyed it, thoroughly.

      i don’t understand why Franzen wrote the essay.  the ‘problem’ of facebook liking and technology seems transparent. maybe it would seem like a ‘revelation’ to college grads, i don’t know.  everyone is an artist interested in aura and trace and moment and everyone is not.  don’t forget that, i tell myself.  then either play or love on the internet or go swimming. 

      fun read. 

  38. alanrossi

      real self and its particles versus many selves.  unreal self or maybe it’s no-self or again even no no-self. okay, i still will vacuum up pet hair while my wife sits with her legs up.  all the self talk here feels like a merely verbal dispute.  enjoyed it, thoroughly.

      i don’t understand why Franzen wrote the essay.  the ‘problem’ of facebook liking and technology seems transparent. maybe it would seem like a ‘revelation’ to college grads, i don’t know.  everyone is an artist interested in aura and trace and moment and everyone is not.  don’t forget that, i tell myself.  then either play or love on the internet or go swimming. 

      fun read. 

  39. Don

      I sort of like the Franzen essay.

  40. Anonymous

      Synthetic/consumerist/technology/easy/irony/superficial pleasure vs. real/natural/primitive/difficult/sincere/deeply moving

      Hmmm… think DFW covered this ground pretty well in his essay E Unibus Pluram and I know DH Lawrence touched on this subject once or twice, which is fine but hardly controversial. But maybe this is one of only two or three themes any serious writer ever really writes about anyway.

      It would be interesting to read an essay advocating withdraw from the outside world in favor of a life lived online, appreciation of gadgets, appreciation for surface beauty and pursuit of temporary feelings of excitement or contentment. Some kind of “Notes from the Underground” for the modern era. Maybe Blake Butler could write that or something.

  41. Anonymous

  42. I do not want people to be very agreeable… « your creepy friends.

      […] Here’s the thing: Franzen vs. Internet vs. Love vs. Iskandrian […]

  43. Anonymous

  44. matt

      Franzen sez: “Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person?”

      This seems like a total bullshit distinction. To pretend that the idea and concept of love is not absurdly immersed in, and almost totally, if not totally, conditioned by the act of making daily consumer choices in the world (just by having our eyes open and glancing around at anything, wherever we are, our brains are processing [scientific estimation] of consumer choices simultaneously) seems wrong.

      We’re in capitalism. All sensation and stimuli produced, received, experienced, etc. is the result of infinite daily consumer choices. Seems really obvious. How is love any less of a “fake” consumer choice? How is it that in the year 2011, authors are still defending these picturesque categories of ‘real love’ vs. ‘fake consumer choice’, as if the former were just not a more complex consumer choice?

      Seems astonishingly… idk. Seems either very disingenuous or just genuinely stupid. idgi

  45. matt

      article reads as *shilling for BlackBerry and an iPhone* combined with highschool English class level comprehension of cliches about “love”