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Franzen vs. the Internet: Author says e-books damage society

The novelist Jonathan Franzen criticizes e-books, saying their readers are not "serious" and that capitalists hate paper.

Chenda Ngak Editor / CBSNews.com
Chenda Ngak is CBSNews.com's Science & Technology Editor.
Chenda Ngak
2 min read

Jonathan Franzen
Author Jonathan Franzen speaks on stage during The 2011 New Yorker Festival. Getty/Neilson Barnard
Jonathan Franzen, the American author of bestselling novels "The Corrections" and "Freedom," came out swinging against e-books at a speaking engagement in Cartagena, Colombia.

The Telegraph reported Franzen saying physical paper books are the more superior technology because they'll still be around in 10 years.

"I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it's pretty good technology. And what's more, it will work great 10 years from now. So no wonder the capitalists hate it. It's a bad business model," Franzen told the Telegraph.

The criticism didn't end there. Franzen went on to imply that people who read e-books are not serious readers.

"I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn't change," Franzen said.

That's a sweeping generalization rooted in an overly-romanticized view of printed books. Even if I agree with him, as a book lover, his statements are too condescending to take seriously. The Twitterverse wasn't happy with Franzen's remarks either - no surprise there.

"Jonathan Franzen 1st worried the wrong people were reading (Oprah), now thinks people are reading wrong," tweeted @MarshallLaws.

"Rather than admit taste is subjective, Jonathan Franzen insists that those with different preferences are inferior," tweeted @jessespaffor.

They both make good points. How each person reads is a personal decision and an intimate act. Get your nose out of our e-books, Mr. Franzen.

Franzen doesn't even take into consideration the countless self-published authors who wouldn't have a chance of seeing their books actualized because of the old guards at the gates of publishing companies. Most of them won't win a Pulitzer Prize, but they've achieved a dream of sharing their stories with the world.

Technology done well is meant to disrupt existing institutions, very much in the same way the moveable type replaced woodblock printing. While we may lament the loss of an older medium, it's inevitable that efficiency supersedes nostalgia.

Slate's Torie Bosch points out, "It's not necessary to disparage the technology and everyone who enjoys it as somehow less serious or missing a grand philosophical point." Agreed.

This item first appeared on CBSNew.com under the headline "Are e-books damaging society? Jonathan Franzen says yes."