Why Real Writers Hate the Internet

Jonathan Franzen in the New York Times Magazine.

From an article “Jonathan Franzen is fine with all of it,” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, in the New York Times Magazine of July 1, 2018:

“I’ve never been a big fan of society structured predominantly along lines of consumerism, but I had made my peace with it,” he said. “But then when it began to be that every individual person also had to be a product that they were selling and liking became paramount, that seemed like a very worrisome thing at a personal level as a human being.

“If you’re in a state of perpetual fear of losing market share for you as a person, it’s just the wrong mind-set to move through the world with. Meaning that if your goal is to get liked and retweeted, then you are perhaps molding yourself into the kind of person you believe will get those things, whether or not that person resembles the actual you. The writer’s job is to say things that are uncomfortable and hard to reduce. Why would a writer mold himself into a product?”

And why couldn’t people hear him about the social effects this would have? “The internet is all about destroying the elite, destroying the gatekeepers,” he said. “The people know best. You take that to its conclusion, and you get Donald Trump. What do those Washington insiders know? What does the elite know? What do papers like The New York Times know? Listen, the people know what’s right.” He threw up his hands. . . .

It’s not just writers. It’s everyone. The writer is just an extreme case of something everyone struggles with. “On the one hand, to function well, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities and summon enormous confidence from somewhere. On the other hand, to write well, or just to be a good person, you need to be able to doubt yourself—to entertain the possibility that you’re wrong about everything, that you don’t know everything, and to have sympathy with people whose lives and beliefs and perspectives are very different from yours.” The internet was supposed to do this for people, but it didn’t. “This balancing act”—the confidence that you know everything plus the ability to believe that you don’t—“only works, or works best, if you reserve a private space for it.”


  1. Maureen Schleisner says

    Lead me gently to that private space, please.

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