You have to love a book that begins, “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” From the very first line, we knowYou have to love a book that begins, “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” From the very first line, we know this is certainly not contemporary realism. We’re squarely in sci-fi territory here, dropped into M.T. Anderson’s vision of the future United States, where trees have been replaced with air factories, corporations have taken over the operation of the schools, and the wealthy are lucky enough to have had computers, or feeds, implanted in their brains at birth.
Even though computers are now located in brains, there are still hackers out there who can take control of those computers – and by default, take control of the brains and bodies in which those computers are housed. An encounter with a hacker is the reason that protagonist Titus and his friends have a sucky time on the moon when they head up there for a last-minute spring break jaunt. And the trip seemed to be going so well at first, too – Titus had just met a beautiful girl, Violet, and had convinced her to come with him and his friends to the Rumble Spot, a dance club whose advertisement – “an ocean of chaos in the Sea of Tranquility” – was playing nonstop on the teens’ feeds. The group didn’t notice the older man circulating amongst the young partiers until he touched them with a metal handle on the neck and took over their feeds, forcing them all to yell (or as Titus called it, to “broadcast”) “We enter a time of calamity!” as a backdrop to his doomsday prophecies. The hacker’s attack came to an abrupt end when the police arrived and shut off the hacked feeds.
Violet and Titus and friends have to endure the next few days at the hospital without their feeds. Titus begins to discover some funny things about Violet – she writes with a pen, she knows big words like “incite” even without access to the dictionary on her feed, and the doctors have to have special private meetings with her to discuss some issues that have arisen with her feed.
What will happen when the feeds are turned back on? How will the issues with Violet’s feed manifest themselves? With their feeds once again inundating them with a constant stream of advertising, will Titus and Violet be able to maintain the connection they built in the absence of the feeds? I highly recommend that you read Feed to find out. The engaging plot and the satiric vision of this dystopic but strangely familiar future will draw you in, but what will keep you glued to the pages is Anderson’s ingenious, virtuosic writing. It’s astonishing to think that this is the same man who wrote Octavian Nothing, because the language is so utterly different. Anderson brilliantly plays with shallow teenspeak (That’s, like, so cool, man) and invents some teen jargon of his own.
But really, I think the main attraction of Feed for me is the way that Anderson is pushing us, his readers, to consider how technology, commerce, media, and consumerism affect our lives. Is it possible that technology, which is supposed to connect us, actually leaves us more alone and stuck in our own heads? What happens if we base our identities on the products we buy and consume? What happens if we cannot, or do not, exercise some control over the information entering our brains?
I think these questions are essential ones that all of us, but maybe especially teens, need to ponder. In a speech to the 2005 graduates of Kenyon College, the late, great David Foster Wallace explains why it is so important to contemplate these issues, even if we don’t have computers in our heads yet. I wanted to leave you with some of his thoughts.
Foster Wallace says, “As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master…. I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.” ...more