Belfast Telegraph

Even Luddites must see technology makes life better

By Christina Patterson

Lady Gaga and Jonathan Franzen have quite a lot in common. They're both American. They're both famous. They're both rich. But there's one thing they don't have in common and that's a love of Twitter.

Franzen doesn't have 20 million 'followers' the way Lady Gaga does. He has - or someone tweeting on behalf of his latest novel, Freedom, has - 1,708. And he doesn't seem to like Twitter at all.

It is, he said this week, "unspeakably irritating". It stands, he said, for everything he has always "opposed". What he cared about was "serious" readers and writers.

If Franzen didn't like Twitter before, he probably likes it even less now. He probably didn't like the thread that sprang up as soon as his comments were posted on a blog.

But he probably also didn't like the tweet from the person who suggested he hated computers, because "real writers etch their words onto parchment through quills".

Franzen doesn't hate computers, but he does think that if you're writing on one, what you should do is destroy its internet port.

He thinks you should work in an empty office where there's nothing to distract you and no one to talk to and no phone. And, in this, he's probably right.

He's probably right that, if you want to write a 500-page novel, and can do this without having to hold down a job, it's a good idea to go somewhere where the only voices you have to listen to are in your head.

He's probably right that you can think more deeply about your characters and your plot if you're not distracted by the thoughts of other people. But he's wrong if he thinks the thoughts of other people are boring and banal.

Franzen seems to think that, for something to be good, it has to be long. He seems to have forgotten that some long novels, including some of his, are very good and some take up days of your time you'll never get back.

He seems to have forgotten that short novels can be better than long novels and so can short stories and so can short poems.

Franzen also seems to have forgotten, or perhaps he hasn't noticed, that Twitter isn't just about you. It's about sharing information and articles and links and making connections with people you wouldn't normally meet.

It's about finding out about people and countries and the world. It can be interesting and boring and witty and crass. He seems to have forgotten that paper isn't permanent, nor is ink, nor is the human brain. He seems to have forgotten that thoughts and ideas live on even when ink fades and books crumble and people die.

Franzen doesn't seem to think that this is the most interesting time in human history to be alive. He doesn't seem to like the fact that, for the first time in history, even people without publishers have a chance of being heard.

Lady Gaga, by the way, has only sent out about 1,300 tweets. That's way less than one a day.

It looks as if she's learnt something that Jonathan Franzen hasn't: that the thing about technology is you use it when you want to and then what you do is switch it off.

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