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Jonathan Franzen Has Some Gadget Shopping Advice for the Graduating Class

Buying a new Blackberry is always a good prompt for a commencement address, and the author of ""Freedom"":http://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Novel-Jonathan-Franzen/dp/0374158460 uses the occasion to describe his obsession with real true human love, and how...

Buying a new Blackberry is always a good prompt for a commencement address, and the author of “Freedom” uses the occasion to describe his obsession with real true human love, and how we lost it somewhere between “the bottomless empathy borne out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are” and the pathetic eroticism of buying a new Blackberry, or, say, liking a blog post about a commencement speech so your online friends will see it.

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The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking. And yet pain hurts but it doesn't kill. When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived. Even just to say to yourself, "Oh, I'll get to that love and pain stuff later, maybe in my 30s" is to consign yourself to 10 years of merely taking up space on the planet and burning up its resources. Of being (and I mean this in the most damning sense of the word) a consumer.

The Times published a version of the speech, but you can read it in an earlier, more gripping form when it was delivered on the same stage six years earlier by a friend of Franzen’s, who was certainly never his Facebook friend.

(Sorry about the autoplay — couldn’t figure out how to turn it off — but you can just press that pause button.)

IMAGE: Nikola Tamindzic