Jonathan Franzen on why “Liking is for cowards. Go for what hurts.”

Illustration by Sarah Illenberger; Photograph by Ragnar Schmuck

The title of this commentary is provided by Jonathan Franzen from an article of his that appeared in The New York Times (May 29, 2011) in which he explains why our infatuation with technology provides an easy alternative to love. “The striking thing about all consumer products – and none more so than electronic devices and applications – is that they are designed to be immensely likeable.” Franzen adds that, in fact, this is “the definition of a consumer product.”

If considered in human terms, “and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist – a person who can’t stand the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likeable.

“Consumer technology products would never do anything this unattractive, because they aren’t people. They are, however, great allies and enablers of narcissism.”

If I understand the thrust of Franzen’s thinking (and I may not), his core assertion is that highly-insecure people are desperate to be liked, accepted, approved of, etc. Lacking integrity, they are unable to deny the death that Ernest Becker asserts will occur when they become wholly obsessed with fulfilling others’ expectations of them.

Electronic devices and applications are their enablers because these consumer technology products identify what is most popular, provide a means by which highly-insecure people can associate themselves with what is most popular, and thereby (they hope) increase their appeal to others.

To read the Times article, please click here.

To hear the commencement address, please click here.

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Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen is the author, most recently, of Freedom. This essay is adapted from a commencement speech he delivered on May 21, 2011, at Kenyon College.


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