Franzen’s ‘Purity’ and the New iPhone

Why art is more important than tech.

September 2, 2015

Have you downloaded Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Purity yet?

First (and to get it out of my system) - why isn’t this book Whispersync enabled? The novel is 576 pages. 25 hours. This book was made for going back and forth between audio and e-book. I can’t be the only one frustrated with how slowly Audible/Amazon is rolling out Whispersync.

Purity was released on 9/1. On 9/9 Apple will host an event where new iPhones, iPads and some other stuff will be announced. 

Which event, the Franzen new book or the Apple new tech release, is a bigger deal?

To ask this question is to answer it. Tech is boring. Books are cool.

How did we get to this situation? When did the world change that a new book by a beloved author is much important news than a new technology release?

The fact that the new Franzen book is so much more important for our culture than a new iPhone release tells us some interesting things about the future of work. The creative economy is ascendant.  The gadget economy is commoditized.

At some point, none of us need much more from our technology. Phones, tablets and laptops are basically mature products. We welcome improvements in battery life, but the basic form factor and and operation of our tech tools does not change much from year to year. The main reason to replace personal tech as often as we do is not improvements in function or form, but because personal tech products break down. We drop our gadgets. The battery stops holding a charge very long.  Screens get cracked.

Books are another matter. Every great new book is a revelation. A novel like Purity will be discussed and debated. If the book is as good as Franzen’s first two novels than a new set of ideas will enter our cultural bloodstream.  

Books change us. Technology might divert, but it does not humble or inspire.

All the talk about the coming of the robots and the need to produce more engineers misses a fundamental point about the future of our economy. What we need is more writers, more thinkers, and more artists. We need more liberal arts majors.

Will you be reading Purity?



Back to Top