It’s sometimes entertaining to see people who have lived in a particular world for a long time get totally freaked out by new technologies. Such is the case of famed author Jonathan Franzen who seems absolutely horrified by the concept of ebooks. Why? Because digital just doesn’t feel permanent enough for him:
“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing — that’s reassuring…. 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. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”
Of course, that makes no sense. But, even more bizarrely, Franzen extends this out beyond ebooks to suggest that if they become more common the world might not work:
“Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change…. Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”
Honestly, I’m not sure what to say about people so out of touch that they think something as simple as an ebook might destroy society… other than perhaps they’re wedded to a medium for purposes of nostalgia rather than based on any sort of rational thinking.
Even worse, he seems to be making a correlation between such technological advancement and problems in government and assuming they’re linked directly:
“If you go to Europe, politicians don’t matter. The people making the decisions in Europe are bankers… The technicians of finance are making the decisions there. It has very little to do with democracy or the will of the people. And we are hostage to that because we like our iPhones.”
Of course, I’d argue exactly the opposite. It’s the fact that people are now starting to use technology to push back in serious ways that suggests that the ability to communicate and make the will of the people heard is what is going to hopefully lead to governments that really are more responsive to the will of the people. We’ve seen that starting to happen with the protests against SOPA, and hopefully that’s just the beginning.