The notoriously luddite author of “Freedom” and “The Corrections” was speaking at Tulane University in New Orleans Monday when he turned from attacking “Revolutionary Road” (he dismissed it as “falsely bleak”) to social media.
"Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose," said Franzen, according to author Jami Attenberg, who was at the talk. "It's hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It's like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it's like writing a novel without the letter 'P'… It's the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves."
Of course, immediately after his comments hit the Internet (which Franzen reportedly avoids when he is writing), they spawned the hashtag #JonathanFranzenhates and a flurry of tweets about all the things Franzen supposedly hates, including pie, kittens, and baby ducks.
Among the more amusing tweets: “Emoticons, because it takes 600 pages to accurately convey information,” and “Twitter was actually made for people like Franzen. Every time he speaks more than 140 chars, he embarrasses himself.”
The author Attenberg, who was at Franzen’s Tulane talk, told the Guardian newspaper she was “sort of infuriated” by his comments. "Not that he's incorrect about how much social networking can suck your time, because it can, but because he doesn't understand that a lot of writers have to use the medium as a promotional device as well as a way to build networks," she said, adding that Franzen "doesn't have to do anything! He has a publicist who probably has dreams about him every night, whether he has a book coming out or not. He is free to write and just be himself, while the rest of us are struggling to be heard and recognized. He will never understand how hard it is to get ahead as a writer, never again in his life. I'm not suggesting he's old-fashioned. I'm suggesting he has lost perspective."
Earlier this year the celebrated author criticized e-books, calling them “not for serious readers” and “damaging to society.”
He also trashed Facebook last year in a New York Times op-ed last year.
There, he wrote, “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.”
Of course, he added, “Very probably, you’re sick to death of hearing social media disrespected by cranky 51-year-olds.”
Tweeted one #JonathanFranzenhates follower, “There's no way it stands for everything he opposes. That's way more than 140 characters.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.