Advances in technology have changed the way in which individuals live and interact amongst each other. Although many people seem to enjoy the current technology we have now that was not available before, some individuals are able to find flaws regarding newer technology. According to some people, like essayist Jonathan Franzen, technology has had a negative impact on how people in a society act towards one another. Franzen shares many opinions on various different subjects in Farther Away; however, he dives into the topic of technology and its flaws in two separate essays that are both included in the book. In the book, Franzen reveals his reasoning behind how and why technological advances, such as cell phones and social media, have tarnished society’s behaviors and interactions towards others.
The first essay, “Pain Won’t Kill You,” which also starts off the book, discusses fake relationships and the need for likability and acceptance that has all been created and emphasized by social media. Franzen claims that realistically, a person cannot like everything about another individual; however, a person can love bits and pieces of everything that the other person can offer. “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 technoconsumerist order: it exposes the lie. Franzen’s point here is that the person you show yourself to be on social media sites, like Facebook, is not your real self. Users of Facebook (and websites similar to Facebook) feel the need to constantly act like someone they are not in order to seem more likable by other users. This becomes a problem because people end up becoming fixated and obsessed with their virtual reality. Individuals will keep having to maintain a facade online in order to keep their likeable persona alive. “Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery… We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors. By this, Franzen means that people only reveal what makes them look good to fool others into liking them; however, fooling others into liking your persona or fake virtual life will not give any satisfaction to that person in the long run because they are not experience authentic love. They are merely appreciating the fake version of someone and not the real person that they would see in reality. This kind of situation causes individuals to forget how it is to feel real, raw love in the real life world. “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. In this passage, Franzen explains to the audience that there will be a point in time when an individual cannot maintain their likable persona anymore and eventually exposes their real self and goes back to reality. Any individual going through all this trouble just so that they can seem more likeable on social media is essentially being held back from being able to experience real love and friendship in the real world, which is why Franzen believes social media has negatively changed the way society thinks and acts when dealing with others.
Franzen’s second essay discussing the negative factors of technology, “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” goes into detail about how cell phones negatively affect individuals, especially when they are in public or crowded spaces. Franzen believes that cell phones are an invasion of privacy because they allow individuals to have private conversations in public places, while being surrounded by random people. “I simply do not, while buying socks at the Gap, or standing in a ticket line and pursuing my private thoughts, or trying to read a novel on a plane that’s being boarded, want to be imaginatively drawn into the sticky world of some nearby human being’s home life. The very essence of the cell phone’s hideousness, as a social phenomenon—the bad news that stays bad news—is that it enables and encourages the inflicting of the personal and individual on the public and communal. I simply do not, while buying socks at the Gap, or standing in a ticket line and pursuing my private thoughts, or trying to read a novel on a plane that’s being boarded, want to be imaginatively drawn into the sticky world of some nearby human being’s home life. The very essence of the cell phone’s hideousness, as a social phenomenon—the bad news that stays bad news—is that it enables and encourages the inflicting of the personal and individual on the public and communal. He explains that while he is out in public, trying to enjoy his book or simply just running errands, he overhears conversations that he feels as if he should not be hearing in the first place, because typically the things that others are saying around him are conversations or information that should be dealt with in a private manner between the two individuals that are speaking to each other over the phone. Franzen does not want to be exposed to the personal lives of others around him, who are people he probably does not even know. Although privacy is not the only negative aspect that is associated with the use of cell phones, there is also the loss of meaning of words and phrases, which Franzen notes in the same essay, “But the phrase “I love you” is too important and loaded, and its use as a sign-off too self-conscious, for me to believe I’m being made to hear it accidentally. If the mother’s declaration of love had genuine, private emotional weight, wouldn’t she take at least a little care to guard it from public hearing? If she she was saying, from the bottom of her heart, wouldn’t she have to say it quietly ? Overhearing her, as a stranger, I have the feeling of being made party to an aggressive assertion of entitlement. Franzen believes that when phrases that are meant to be said with sincerity, such as “I love you,” are said in public, it takes away from the authenticity of the phrase and the phrase just loses all its meaning. He also believes that it is such a common practice in our society to say “I love you” to everyone over the phone in public that people do not really mean it–they just say it because it has become a habit, much like how we say “goodbye” at the end of a phone call. This type of occurrence also puts Franzen, or the individual who is in public, in an awkward position because he/they are witnessing a very sentimental exchange of words when he/they did not ask to be put in this type of position, which ends up putting all of the individuals in a rather unpleasant situation.
Franzen’s opinions regarding technological advances and their negative impacts on society and individuals’ interactions towards one another is a unique yet understandable perspective. Many people do not think to step back from their electronics and log off from their social media platforms in order to realize how their lives are being affected negatively by technology; however, Franzen does this and gives the audience a completely different valid claim that we, as humans, should take into consideration. Franzen’s claims are probably not things that the average person thinks of when they walk into a supermarket and hear someone say “I love you” into their cellular device, nor when that same person logs onto their Facebook account to keep in touch with old friends, but Franzen brings these negative issues and their repercussions to life for his audience so that they can realize things that they otherwise would not have without the help of Franzen.