This post is both a book review and some eerie linkages between social media and the “feed” concept from this young adult novel. Skip the next paragraph to get to the book review.
My observation: Social media seems like a primitive version of how this novel portrays the “feed” system: a dominant factor in popular culture. I had this review formed before November 13th and after Facebook’s involvement in the aftermath of the bombings in Paris, and afterwards I started making more connections between social media and this “feed” idea. The simple suggestion of posting a temporary profile picture to support Paris/France is an empathetic and considerate action suggested by one of the most influential cultural tools available. I started to link this concept to the feed, where, in the novel, they influence emotion, music, actions and many other aspects of human lives. Personally, I support any action that contributes to general awareness of global issues, so I think the net effect of the tri-colored filters is a giant positive. At the very least, it brings out many different, well-thought opinions about issues that affect us all, which is a vast improvement to Anderson’s dystopian world.
I recently re-read Feed, a dystopian novel targeted towards young adults that is based on a future where the middle to upper classes are connected to feeds, a personalized internet. Written in 2002, before dystopian literature became part of popular culture, this novel questions the “advancement” of human technology to the point where the expanse of information on the internet is at your fingertips.
The novel is centered around Titus, a normal upper-class teenager, who travels to the moon with friends from a similar social standing. He meets Violet, a middle-class teenager and they all experience malfunctions with their feeds. Titus and Violet start a turbulent relationship with their issues centered around the use of their feeds. The difference between middle and upper classes is seen when Violet reveals that her feed was installed when she was 7, due to a lack of money. Upper class children have the feeds installed as infants, where there are significantly less risks. Their relationship deteriorates with the deterioration of Violet’s feed and her actions that jeopardize the consumer-driven feed system.
In a decimated future Earth, humans are experiencing multiple skin lesions which have become part of fashion. Anderson doesn’t really describe how Earth’s environment has failed (I’m thinking global warming), but the atmosphere is slowly killing humans. We don’t hear too much about the lower classes, aside from their suffering, but this is a new world that is driven by extravagant hover cars, trips to the moon, and less of a concern for real issues.
Intelligence is no longer measured by knowledge, as information can be sought on the feed with little effort. School has become a how-to course on using the internet and drives consumerism, called a “buyer’s education”. The vast differences in attitude can been seen through Titus, educated by the feed system, and Violet, with the absence of the feed, receiving a more traditional education from her father, a professor. Feeds are focused on purchases and are personalized to find the goods that appeal most to the person. The feed controls aspects of culture like music, hairstyle, and fashion to sell more products to valuable consumers. I think Anderson over emphasizes how the feeds have taken over verbal communication, as people tend to message each other through the feeds instead of talking.
The group of upper-class characters are at least the second-generation with a feed, as their parents all display a disturbing maturity and understanding of social norms. Growing up with a feed leads to a distant relationship, which is juxtaposed with Violet’s deep bond with her father. Upper class families are driven by material goods, which are expected to fill the void left by an absence of emotion. Futuristic communication utilizes constant slang and simple words; a vocabulary is even mocked in some cases. Language has degraded to a point where verbal conversations are an anomaly and the absence of a feed equates to being a social pariah.
Anderson creates a world where we are exposed to the best and worst of advertising. The process of marketing is so streamlined that it dominates consumers’ minds to allow for ignorance towards the downfall of politics and environment. In a culture designed by consumerism, you can’t help but despair as you realize the danger of everybody being “plugged in”. This novel is written in 2002, so the invention of smartphones, Google Glass (even though it was a failure), and Siri have not influenced this author’s creativity. It’s a little frightening, 13 years later, to see us starting down this path. Anderson obviously poses and extreme, but I feel that this novel may actually be more impact now than when it was originally written.
8/10 – A surprisingly deep young adult novel that satirizes consumerism and addiction to technology.