The technophobic author has now taken to hating on a technology that enables his career, e-readers. "The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it's pretty good technology," the bestselling author said at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Colombia. This isn't the first time Franzen has expressed disdain for our modern toys, but this time he's attacking something that's funding his bird-watching hobby.
Franzen makes some points about e-readers that will resonate with avid book readers: “I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change," he said. Sure, there's something delicious about having a physical, tactile experience with a novel, but, Franzen's fears about the ways a Kindle will change fiction border on paranoia. "Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around," he went on. "The Great Gatsby was last updated in 1924. You don’t need it to be refreshed, do you?" No, but we're not sure any Kindle reader feels compelled to rewrite great American novels.
And, of course, this all comes off as a bit hypocritical, given that Franzen owes part of his success to e-readers. As of October 2010, a few months after Freedom was released, of the 1 million copies in circulation 35 percent were digital, reported CBS. Franzen's books tend to be heavy—not in content, but in physical form. Freedom weighs in at 576-pages and the author's previous doorstop, The Corrections, is 568. The Kindle editions of those books are much more portable, something to commute with and read anywhere.
Franzen has a well-documented disdain for technology. He doesn't write with the Internet and he had an uncomfortable relationship with his BlackBerry, which he admitted to loving in The New York Times, before kicking off a diatribe against techology, the Internet, and narcissism.
Consumer technology products would never do anything this unattractive, because they aren’t people. They are, however, great allies and enablers of narcissism. Alongside their built-in eagerness to be liked is a built-in eagerness to reflect well on us. Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery.
And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.
Some aspects of Franzen's technophobia, like the recognition that the Internet is an enabler of our egomania, feel true, even to writers who embrace technology, but the author's all-or-nothing formula is hard to follow. "It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction," Franzen stated as one of his rules for writing fiction in The Guardian. As writers who sit in front of the Internet all day, we can attest to the fact that it is very distracting, but then we don't all get to be famous, mega-selling authors, so we do what we can.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.