Jonathan Franzen: "The Internet should be really strictly regulated"

The novelist bemoans electronic media as addictive and compares tech corporations to 19th century coal magnates


Prachi Gupta
October 24, 2013 9:40PM (UTC)

Novelist Jonathan Franzen hates the Internet, a point he has made several times, most recently in an excerpt from his newly released examination of Austrian satirst Karl Kraus, "The Kraus Project." Since then (and most of his time in a public space), Franzen has been shrugging off critics. In an extensive interview with Manjula Martin, co-founder of indie publication Scratch Magazine and a longtime family friend of Franzen's partner, "The Corrections" author again pushes back, going into detail about his views on social media, the Internet and the economics of journalism.

Franzon on his privilege as a white male in literature:

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Well, I am a male animal, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t stop writing and disappear just because someone chooses to project onto me her grievance with a million years of sexist human history. I can only do what I’ve always done, which is try to be gender-balanced in the books I recommend, the authors I write criticism about, the characters I put into my novels. I wince as much as anyone else does when I read the table of contents of Harper’s or the New York Times Book Review and see mostly male names. The point where I draw the line is when politics starts dictating literary judgments. I don’t think we should call pedestrian writing great, or vice versa, just because it makes someone feel better.

I guess I do find it ironic that I’m considered “the man,” given what I’m doing with my so-called power. What about all the white guys who are using their power to support large multinational corporations, or $50 billion Silicon Valley enterprises, or the Republican Party? Go take on those guys.

On the the addictive nature of electronic media:

JF: It’s not like I’m militantly opposed to discursive interactive communication. It’s fine, it’s great. But there’s a tipping point you reach where you can’t get away from the electronic community, where you become almost physically dependent on it. And that, I persist in thinking, is not compatible with my notion of where terrific literature comes from.

MM: Are you worried because people can’t get away from electronic media, or because we may not want to?

JF: I think the model of the new technology is addiction. You’re sort of asking, “You can’t quit cigarettes, or you just don’t want to?”

On whether journalism is well-suited for "the bloodsucking monster squid" that is the Internet:

It is and it isn’t. Where’s the pay model? I have many reasons to resent this new electronic world, and one of the big ones is that the people whose job it is to report responsibly are getting kicked out of work, downsized, reduced to half time, having their pay slashed, by this bloodsucking monster squid of the Internet. All these blogs—they all need information. Where’s the information coming from? Who is paying for the information? The Silicon Valley visionaries say, “Oh, well, we’ll crowdsource it.” Yeah, give me a fucking break. As if you therefore don’t need people whose job it is to have a beat, to work contacts for years, to understand a subject thoroughly, to put things in context, to be able to distinguish meaningful information from nonsense… it’s just not doable. And nobody is talking about what happens when the Internet kills journalism.

On corporations and writers:

I think the tech corporations are like the nineteenth-century coal magnates, and the free-lance writers are like the people slaving in the mines, the only difference being that the tech corporations can’t stop congratulating themselves on how they’ve liberated everybody. I think the Internet should be really strictly regulated, the way the airwaves used to be. If an entire region of the country had its main industry suddenly lose 90 percent of its paying jobs because of the predatory practices of a different region’s industry, you might, if you were the government, step in and say, “We can’t actually let this entire region starve. We’re going to subsidize prices, we’re going to redistribute some income.” Why should Apple shareholders be getting rich while working journalists are getting fired? This is an unjust situation, and the libertarians in Silicon Valley are either moral idiots or liars. They know they’re getting away with shit they shouldn’t get away with, and all they’ve got is this idea of libertarianism. That, and the mantra of making the world a better place.

Read the full interview at Scratch.


Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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Books Internet Jonathan Franzen Journalism Literature Social Media Technology Writing

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