Tag Archives: social media

Lessons in Love and Life from Jonathan Franzen

“There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of.”

Once again, there I was on metafilter when I stumbled across something interesting.  Go figure.  This time, it was an excerpt from a commencement speech at Kenyon College (printed in the opinion page of the NYT) written by author Jonathan Franzen (Freedom) about technology and narcissism and love and life.

Franzen talks about the “liking” phenomenon sweeping the world, thanks to Facebook.  We all want to “like” things, and we want people to “like” us.  “If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are.”


Image by -= Bruce Berrien =- via Flickr

We want to be loved for who we are, and yet we rarely show our true selves to people, especially at the beginning of a romantic relationship.  We try to be perfect, to be who the person wants us to be, or who we think the person wants us to be.  We don’t lose our temper when someone cuts us off on the road.  We cook gourmet dinners.  We obviously don’t burp or fart or poop, because we don’t do any of those things. We don’t get upset or have a bad day and eat a pint of ice cream to ease the pain.  We exercise regularly and have a clean house.

The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.

This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

The big risk here, of course, is rejection. We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of potential likers. But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful. The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking.

And yet pain hurts but it doesn’t kill. When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived.

Read the rest of the opinion piece here.

Listen to the whole commencement speech here.

Facebook – Good vs. Evil

Is social networking bad for a relationship?  I’ve read a couple of articles about it, and I can certainly see the “YES” side of the argument.  But I also think it’s just an excuse.  I think if the relationship is shaky to begin with, then social networking just exacerbates the problem. 

I read one story about a guy who wondered why he should be friends with his wife – “I see her at home and we talk about our day every day, so why would I have her as a friend on Facebook?”  My question is, why wouldn’t you? 

Because, no matter how much I may trust my husband, I would have to wonder what it is he doesn’t want me to see.

That’s the bottom line, as far as I see it.  Either you have something to hide, or you don’t.  If you don’t have something to hide, then you don’t care.  If you do have something to hide…well…

It doesn’t begin or end with romantic relationships.  What if someone sends you a friend request, but you don’t want to be friends with them?  And, I’m learning, people have a different idea of friending “strategies.”  Some will approve anyone who requests to be a friend.  Some will only approve actual “friends” and struggle with approving acquaintances (or friends of friends).  Some only approve really close friends.  Which is right?  They all are.  It’s a very personal decision.

But when you’re the one that’s not approved for a friend request, or you’re the one who only sees filtered content, or you’re the one that has been unfriended by someone, regardless of how friendly you actually are with the person, it still stings. 

Back to the husband I mentioned above that’s not friends with his wife.  I kind of get that, even if I don’t agree with it (exactly for the reason I mentioned).  But I also think that social networking is more about connecting with people you don’t normally talk to in the course of a week, month, year, decade.  You stay up to date on their lives, without having to make the effort to email or call, without clogging up email with huge picture files of the kids in the pumpkin patch.  You catch up with old high school and college friends, without having to go to the over-priced reunion across the country.  The people I really care about, I already know about their lives.  I don’t need Facebook for that.

As for my romantic relationship, since The Pilot is away so often, our Facebook connection makes me feel closer to him when he’s far away.  All I have to do is log on, and I can see pictures of him and enjoy his smile.  I can enjoy his sense of humor in his wall posts.  I can get a sense of his day, wherever he is.  And, on the lucky times when we are both online at the same time, I can IM him and we can talk. 

And, honestly, today that thought is the only thing keeping me from closing out my facebook account.  Because I’m kind of not feeling Facebook lately.