Phew. Well, now that vacation is over, I can get back to posting.
I finished recently a book recommended by a friend called “Feed.” It isn’t my usual type of book (a bit more “real” than I like), but I’ve recommended to her so many books that I figured I should do the same and take one of her suggestions. And boy, wow, it was a great suggestion.
It takes you awhile to kind of figure out what’s going on, but when you do it’s this: There are teenagers that are on the Moon for vacation and they end up meeting another teenager and going to a bar to dance. While there, a person from the “Coalition of Pity” attacks them and causes them to blurt out random phrases that the Coalition set about how they were all losing themselves and falling to capitalism, etc. In order to stop this hacking, the teenagers had their “feeds” turned off for a bit while the doctors could stop the hack.
The feed is basically an internet uplink directly into the brain. It is connected to every part of the brain. It can look up words your thinking, communicate into/from other people’s minds, recall memories, and even allow you to view ads and buy things from shops. The feed is ever-present in these teenagers lives. It was begun by corporations in America, and is implanted into the brain when most people are children – about 73% of Americans have this product directly into their brains.
The main character, Titus, falls for the girl they met on the Moon, Violet. She’s different: speaking in full sentences, not calling things “thing,” using bigger words, and saying more random things than Titus and his friends do. He likes that she’s different and they begin going out. Violet wants to trick the feed by making it so that the feed can’t figure out what kind of person she is. The feed will market to the person based on what websites they view, what they ask for in a store, listen to, etc. Violet is being exceptionally random, and the feed can’t figure her out as a seller.
What happens is that at a party, Violet has an attack, calling everyone there names and saying that they’ve become the feed (as they’re proudly sporting these legions all over their bodies). It turns out that in the original hack, Violet’s feed was damaged. It was installed later in her life and has essentially rusted and is disconnecting parts of her brain. Random parts of her body will stop working. She contacted FeedTech Customer Service for help to repair the feed, but the company says that she’s too difficult a consumer (because of the previous paragraph) and that it won’t repair her feed. She’s going to die as the feed loses capabilities.
Titus is, essentially, overwhelmed, and ends contact with Violet. Violet sends him all her memories in case she forgets, and asks to go to the mountains with him. She tries to sleep with him, but he says it’s like sleeping with a zombie, and he takes her home. Months pass, and the reader gets a glimpse of the outside world in bits and pieces and things are not going well. There are severe environmental disasters, a world that doesn’t function anymore, and “the Global Alliance” is going to destroy America. Meanwhile, everyone just goes about life normally, with the legions growing more and more severe, and Titus still not talking with Violet. He starts dating another girl. Eventually, Violet’s father (who teaches ancient coding and only has the feed on glasses) tells Titus that Violet is almost dead and she wanted him to know. Titus sees her, her father blames Titus for what happened, and Titus flees. He sits on his floor and orders the same pair of jeans until he’s out of money. Eventually, he goes back to Violet and tells her stories about the world while she dies, including their relationship in the form of a movie trailer.
It takes a bit to get into this book. You can see that the plot is pretty simple. Boy meets girl, falls in love with girl, girl dies. But it’s really a lot more than that, which is what you get through M. T. Anderson’s writing. Titus doesn’t know a lot of words – his brain is incredibly simplistic, even though it has the entire internet inside of it. When he doesn’t know a word, he says “thing.” They say “like” every third word. They are slaves to advertising monsters, and they never view the world outside of their own bubbles. They don’t think for themselves: the feed thinks for them, and it tells them to buy. It’s so sad and so scary.
The “thing” part really got to me, because I do it all the time. I can’t remember a word, so I say “thing.” To think that I could be like one of these teenagers scared me so much that I’ve tried really hard lately not to say “thing.”
The glimpses of the outside world are shown in the form of speeches by the American President, or heard on the news. And it’s dark stuff. The entire world is against America because of what American consumerism has done to the planet. Corporations run schools and teach students how to be better consumers. It’s a very anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism book. But it’s a love story too. I do think that Titus loved Violet and that she could have made him a better person and together they could stop the feed…but that’s not what happens. Titus gets scared and runs because he doesn’t know better. This book is unusual for me in that the ending is not a happy one. Not even remotely. I’m pretty sure everyone dies in a nuke blast not far after this, given what the Global Alliance was planning.
But it’s scary to think that we could get to this point. The book mentions that when the feed was first introduced, it was as a way to make you smarter. “You can look anything up in an instant!” and yet, it’s somehow made people dumber. (They watch a show called “Oh! Wow! Thing!”) And that’s what I see today a lot on the internet: people who have this amazing technology and do nothing but buy things and watch TV. Not that I don’t do that! I’m not trying to say that the internet isn’t amazing for that…
but maybe, maybe…we should all read a scholarly article or a couple wikipedia pages or some pages of the dictionary, just to remind ourselves all that the internet is good for, before we forget all the good that it can do too.