Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review: Feed [2002]

The best science fiction, in my opinion, is the kind that takes familiar material and extrapolates it in intriguing and even disturbing ways. You get to the end and have the uncomfortable realization that what you just read could actually happen. Feed was written before the advent of Web 2.0, before Twitter and Facebook, and just as MySpace, Friendster, and LinkedIn were getting off the ground. Despite this, it manages to remain amazingly current. The book, a young adult novel, is author M.T. Anderson's vision of Web 12.0, in which about 73% of Americans have "feeds" implanted in their brains that keep them virtually connected to the internet all the time and, coincidentally, also control the way the body functions, the emotions, and memory. Previously barely-sentient Titus finds this out the hard way when his girlfriend, Violet [SPOILER ALERT!] is diagnosed with a malfunctioning feed that leads her to question everything. Of course, Violet is already predisposed to question as the home-schooled daughter of a professor of dead languages (FORTRAN, BASIC, etc.), whereas Titus has trouble even getting through School(tm), in which he is taught how to be a better shopper, and other useful skills.
But the braggest thing about the feed, the thing that made it really big, is that it knows everything you want and hope for, sometimes before you even know what those things are.
Titus and his group of friends are more concerned with following the latest trends and trying to find an activity that doesn't "suck" than with the increasingly hostile world political climate, the fact that trees are being cut down to build air factories, and the mysterious lesions that everyone seems to be getting. Feed is many things: a love story, a coming of age story, a biting satire of America's consumerist culture, and an intriguing "what-if" that takes today's hyperconnectivity to its logical conclusion. At times, Anderson's soapboxing comes on a little too strong, and sometimes one wishes it were possible (technologically speaking) to smack Titus, but in general Feed is well worth a read.

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts: What's most disturbing is that the future Anderson has created is not that far-fetched. When I was watching the Daily Show the other night, two things struck me as frighteningly relevant: the recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporate spending on political campaign advertisements, and Bill Gates, who was discussing his foundation's support of educational initiatives. Anderson's world, or at least his America, is controlled primarily by corporations, who have at some point on the past (thoughtfully) stepped in to fund the failing school system.
. . . it's good because that way we know that the big corps are made up of real human beings, and not just jerks out for money, because taking care of children, they care about America's future. It's an investment in tomorrow.
This is the subject of another post entirely, but I am an advocate of the public school system, and believe that the road to corporate sponsorship--even as well-intentioned as the Gates Foundation appears to be--is paved with pitfalls.

I listened to Feed on audiobook rather than reading it in a conventional manner, which I have to say (having reviewed the text for quotations used above) was probably the best way to go for this book. The first-person narrative of Feed is filled with interruptions from the actual feed in Titus's head (sales from Weatherbee & Crotch, "banners" from nearby businesses, etc.), and the cast of announcers was pitch-perfect for the flood of smarmy advertisement, complete with requisite techno beats and saccharine children's-show theme music. These interruptions are represented by italics in the written version, and don't have quite the same satiric zing.

Dead Mother: N

1 comment:

Donna said...

This Wired story will show how close we already are to "the Feed." Very scary. At the Ted conference, chip implants were actually mentioned!