Thursday, March 1, 2012
M. T. Anderson's young adult novel Feed, published in 2002 is a dystopian novel that may hit a little too close to home. Titus, the protagonist, and his friends live in a future in which everyone (or everyone who can afford to do so) has an imbedded chip, called a "feed," transmitting conversations, news, and even commercials. Space travel is the norm in this world, where through innovations gravity, even nature, can be replicated.
Early in the reading (or in my case, the listening), the characters' poor verbal skills, the profanity, and slang become annoying. Only with the introduction of Violet (homeschool by intellectual parents) demonstrates that language skills--indeed, personality traits--are shaped by the unbiquity of technology and the virtual absence of written text.
As futuristic as the book purports to be, though, the bombardment of the feed bore shades of Facebook and even Amazon. When the characters enter stores, the feed gives prices and descriptions of any article that catches their eyes. (Hmmm...Customers who bought this book also bought....)
In an all-too-creepy twist, since people are increasingly plagued by lesions on their bodies, these become popularized, and one of Titus's female friends has lesions engraved artificially on her body. The group of young people also learn that the Coca-Cola company will reward them with product if they pepper their conversational feeds with mentions of Coke (positive ones, that is).
In some ways, this novel reminds me of a teen version of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, in which the characters are also connected via something more like a small cell phone--but they are constantly monitored by the powers that be. In this story, Titus comes across as less-than-noble when Violet encourages him to rebel against authorities with her. His own insecurity and, perhaps, immaturity, keep him from behaving heroically through the story.
While the audio version of a book often serves as a second best option, this audio actually mimics the feed, sounding like honest-to-goodness commercial interruptions, quite effective on CD.
As disturbing as the story is, it reinforces at least one idea: a world where books are not valued is not a world where I want to live.