My thoughts below the quote…
I wrote down a bunch of things Jonathan Franzen said at his reading at Tulane last night. Here is part of his response to a question about social networking:
“It’s a free country. People can do whatever they want within the law, and even some things not within the law…I personally was on Facebook for two weeks as part of a piece of journalism I was writing — it seemed sort of dumb to me. Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose…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.”
This sort of infuriated me. 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. He doesn’t have to do anything! He has a publicist who probably has dreams about him every night, whether he has a book coming 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.
Read the complete post here.
To play Franzen’s advocate (I am an avid twitter user) your primary argument for the value of twitter is as means to promote your writing.
You write, “ 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. He doesn’t have to do anything! He has a publicist who probably has dreams about him every night, whether he has a book coming or not. He is free to write and just be himself, while the rest of us are struggling to be heard and recognized.”
Yes, but it wasn’t always that way. At some point he was a struggling author and he went hat and manuscript in hand to publishers hawking his wares. He happens to be an exceptional writer and so he was published. Now he has a machine.
Twitter doesn’t replace that. In a world where everyone is a marketer, how does a reader separate the wheat from the chaff? For all of the ills of the publishing world, there is value in having some system for parsing out what is worth being published and what isn’t. Maybe that’s just self publishing on Amazon, I don’t know, but I do know twitter doesn’t replace what publishers do.
Twitter is essentially ephemera writ large. There might be a time and place for it…but only if you are advancing a goal. If you’re goal is to write the next “The Corrections” or “Freedom” twitter will not help you get there. If you’re goal is to extend your personality (I hate the term personal brand) into the universe, then by all means tweet away.
Reflexive defense of social media as an unmitigated good is just as silly as reflexive bashing. Vigorously defending one’s ability to tweet about their morning muffin is just as trite as bashing a platform you might have spent 5 minutes looking at. Social media is just another tool…the trick is to know what you’re using it for…