Thursday, February 16, 2012
It seems like hardly a week goes by without one literary writer or another hyperbolically decrying the way we're all going to hell in an electronic handbasket.
First Jonathan Franzen argued that e-books are damaging society and suggested that all "serious" readers read print.
Last week Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan complained of social networking, "Who cares that we can connect? What’s the big deal? I think Facebook is colossally dull. I think it’s like everyone coming to live in a huge Soviet apartment block, [in] which everyone’s cell looks exactly the same."
Zadie Smith has written of Facebook: "When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned."
This of course comes on the heels of Ray Bradbury complaining in 2009: "They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’ It’s distracting. It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere."
And of course there's a long and storied history of writers eschewing technology and returning to nature, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I don't have any stats to prove this definitively, and to be fair, there are some modern literary writers who definitely embrace tech. Colson Whitehead is tremendous on Twitter and wrote reminded everyone that the Internet isn't the reason you haven't finished your novel. Susan Orlean, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood and others have embraced Twitter.
But doesn't it seem like there's some nexus between literary writers and technophobia? Are literary writers more likely to fear our coming robot overlords and proudly choose an old cell phone accordingly (if they have one at all)? Do they know something we don't?
Even when a writer really does use tech as either an artistic mode of expression or as a relentless self-promotion engine (or both), like Tao Lin, he's derided (or praised, depending on one's POV) as "a world-class perpetrator of gimmickry."
Have lit writers become our resident curmudgeons? Or are they just like any other cross-section of the population? Is it tied to deeper fear of the transition in the book business? Is it just not interesting to think new stuff is cool?
What do you make of this?