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  1. #1
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Default Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.

    Long, but worth reading
    Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.
    Technology Provides an Alternative to Love

    By JONATHAN FRANZEN
    Published: May 28, 2011
    The New York Times

    Excerpt:
    A COUPLE of weeks ago, I replaced my three-year-old BlackBerry Pearl with a much more powerful BlackBerry Bold. Needless to say, I was impressed with how far the technology had advanced in three years. Even when I didn’t have anybody to call or text or e-mail, I wanted to keep fondling my new Bold and experiencing the marvelous clarity of its screen, the silky action of its track pad, the shocking speed of its responses, the beguiling elegance of its graphics.

    I was, in short, infatuated with my new device. I’d been similarly infatuated with my old device, of course; but over the years the bloom had faded from our relationship. I’d developed trust issues with my Pearl, accountability issues, compatibility issues and even, toward the end, some doubts about my Pearl’s very sanity, until I’d finally had to admit to myself that I’d outgrown the relationship.

    Do I need to point out that — absent some wild, anthropomorphizing projection in which my old BlackBerry felt sad about the waning of my love for it — our relationship was entirely one-sided? Let me point it out anyway.

    Let me further point out how ubiquitously the word “sexy” is used to describe late-model gadgets; and how the extremely cool things that we can do now with these gadgets — like impelling them to action with voice commands, or doing that spreading-the-fingers iPhone thing that makes images get bigger — would have looked, to people a hundred years ago, like a magician’s incantations, a magician’s hand gestures; and how, when we want to describe an erotic relationship that’s working perfectly, we speak, indeed, of magic.

    Let me toss out the idea that, as our markets discover and respond to what consumers most want, our 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.

    To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.

    Let me suggest, finally, that the world of techno-consumerism is therefore troubled by real love, and that it has no choice but to trouble love in turn.

    Its first line of defense is to commodify its enemy. You can all supply your own favorite, most nauseating examples of the commodification of love. Mine include the wedding industry, TV ads that feature cute young children or the giving of automobiles as Christmas presents, and the particularly grotesque equation of diamond jewelry with everlasting devotion. The message, in each case, is that if you love somebody you should buy stuff.

    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. The striking thing about all consumer products — and none more so than electronic devices and applications — is that they’re designed to be immensely likable. This is, in fact, the definition of a consumer product, in contrast to the product that is simply itself and whose makers aren’t fixated on your liking it. (I’m thinking here of jet engines, laboratory equipment, serious art and literature.)

    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.

    If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).

    Consumer technology products would never do anything this unattractive, because they aren’t people. They are, however, great allies and enablers of narcissism. Alongside their built-in eagerness to be liked is a built-in eagerness to reflect well on us. 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.

    And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. 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.

    I may be overstating the case, a little bit. Very probably, you’re sick to death of hearing social media disrespected by cranky 51-year-olds. My aim here is mainly to set up a contrast between the narcissistic tendencies of technology and the problem of actual love. My friend Alice Sebold likes to talk about “getting down in the pit and loving somebody.” She has in mind the dirt that love inevitably splatters on the mirror of our self-regard.

    The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. 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 between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

    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.

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  2. #2
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    Haven't read the article in its entirety, but... Is avoiding conflict in relationships really such a modern thing? Or, for that matter, wanting to be liked by several people?

    I dunno, I may be prejudiced 'cause I think Franzen sounds a bit snobby elsewhere, but... I'm kinda curious. Is Liking a pathology of modern times, or just "the new 'Rock and Roll'"?

  3. #3
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Viridian View Post
    Haven't read the article in its entirety, but... Is avoiding conflict in relationships really such a modern thing? Or, for that matter, wanting to be liked by several people?

    I dunno, I may be prejudiced 'cause I think Franzen sounds a bit snobby elsewhere, but... I'm kinda curious. Is Liking a pathology of modern times, or just "the new 'Rock and Roll'"?
    Give the whole thing a read when you have time. He isn't talking about avoiding conflict so much as being driven to be seen as likable and adopting whatever persona makes that easiest. And technology sends us near constant messages on how to do just that. People can come to rely on social networking (and other forms) as a mirror on which to project this persona, even regarding a person as just another flattering reflection. Its the technology that makes it new, but even back in 1968 Joan Didon was writing about how the hollow of a lack of real self-respect cannot be filled by others flashy approval. Her essay speaks to me. I just find the reinforcing spinning loop that technology puts on it worth examining. Its basically the antithesis of the power of solitude I posted about earlier this year. And I thought maybe others would find it an interesting perspective as well. And I'm against adding another like button on TypoC.
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  4. #4
    not to be trusted miss fortune's Avatar
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    Interesting... I get to see people's relationships with their phones up close and personal every single day... especially smart phone users One of the first questions that I get asked by people is "can it connect with facebook?" followed by "how easy is it to update my status?" and "how easy is it for me to update my twitter?"... it's a phone for goodness sake! how fucking connected to you need to be to the entire world at every given point in the day?!?

    to make it worse what type of phone a person carries says a lot about them, apparently... there's i-phone people (some of who would rather carry a 3 year old i-phone than get a brand new android because "it's an i-phone"), there's android people who have to find the biggest and flashiest 4g phones that they can get their hands on, and there's blackberry people, who annoy me a lot less because they are pretty easy to please (give them a blackberry!)- I have coworkers who are horrified that I still carry a 3g phone around with me all of the time instead of upgrading to something newer (the damned thing is only 6 months old!)... people have a creepy relationship with technology... it's like it's become a new accessory as well as a way to promote ourselves
    “Oh, we're always alright. You remember that. We happen to other people.” -Terry Pratchett

  5. #5
    No moss growing on me Giggly's Avatar
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    The main thing I've noticed is that technology has given people the impression that they are more connected but they are actually less connected because it's more shallow and less intimate.

    I know that sounds like "Duh!" but it's really a bigger problem than it seems.

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    Interesting article. Love the ending about love... is that meta?

    If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).
    That is certainly a trap. One I can't always say I've successfully avoided. Later I realize it doesn't matter. People will sometimes dislike you for irrational reasons, as well as like you for irrational reasons. It's best to be yourself.

    There are some that preemptively make others dislike them for the same reasons (just reaching the opposite conclusion). I find them even more sad than those that want others to like them so desperately. At least a real relationship has the chance of developing out of that desperation. The unlikable don't have that.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacGuffin View Post
    Interesting article. Love the ending about love... is that meta?



    That is certainly a trap. One I can't always say I've successfully avoided. Later I realize it doesn't matter. People will sometimes dislike you for irrational reasons, as well as like you for irrational reasons. It's best to be yourself.

    There are some that preemptively make others dislike them for the same reasons (just reaching the opposite conclusion). I find them even more sad than those that want others to like them so desperately. At least a real relationship has the chance of developing out of that desperation. The unlikable don't have that.
    That's something I've thought about... Is "Likable, Sweet Viridian" really a façade? Am I conning people unconsciously by not being controversial or contentious? Does that mean I'm a dishonest friend?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Viridian View Post
    That's something I've thought about... Is "Likable, Sweet Viridian" really a façade? Am I conning people unconsciously by not being controversial or contentious? Does that mean I'm a dishonest friend?
    That depends, are you likable and sweet off by yourself?

  9. #9
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacGuffin View Post
    That depends, are you likable and sweet off by yourself?
    In which way? I mean, those qualities are usually associated with the interpersonal realm, not with the intrapersonal one...

  10. #10
    meh Salomé's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vasilisa View Post
    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.
    True 'dat.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ivy View Post
    Gosh, the world looks so small from up here on my high horse of menstruation.

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