Love in the Age of “Like”

Jonathan Franzen contemplates technology, “liking,” and love in an excellent essay for the New York Times that was adapted from a college commencement speech. Some choice bits:

[O]ur technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn’t throw terrible scenes when it’s replaced by an even sexier object and is consigned to a drawer.

A related phenomenon is the transformation, courtesy of Facebook, of the verb “to like” from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice. And liking, in general, is commercial culture’s substitute for loving…

But if you consider this 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 tolerate 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 likable.

…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 techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.

I quoted more of the cranky parts, but he gets really good as he reflects more deeply on love in the second half of the essay. Go read Franzen’s essay.

One thought on “Love in the Age of “Like”

  1. Thank you for your positive response to Franzen’s commencement speech. Up until now, I had only seen comments from the haters.

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