My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Feed by M.T. Anderson offers a dead accurate portrayal of our current moment dressed in the clothes of a dystopian science fiction future. This deceptively simple, clever story is the literary lovechild of The Great Gatsby and A Clockwork Orange. Anderson offers a unsettling critique of a society in decay that feels like today but is made strange and fresh through exuberant word play.
Feed is set in a future where everyone who matters is tied directly to the internet by a feed implanted when they are young. These fortunate kids are growing up in a world where marketers anticipate and cater to their smallest desires and where boredom and loneliness are never necessary. Except, of course, these kids are frequently bored, constantly dissatisfied and fearful the moment the feed goes quiet. Anderson gives us a generation of kids raised to fear boredom. Naturally, the pursuit of perpetual entertainment makes it harder and harder to keep boredom at bay.
I knew this book was something very special from the opening line: “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
I won’t spoil the story, except to say that our main character, Titus, predictably enough, falls in love with Violet, the weird loner girl who says awkward, true things and never seems quite to fit. I fell in love with Violet, too, which made this story all the more devastating. The story follows the relationship between Titus and Violet. Violet grew up in the world without the Feed and is trying to find a way to fit in.
Violet falls away from the Feed, and Titus is forced to decide in which world he wants to live. Like Nick in the Great Gatsby, Titus, struggles to become and remain self-aware while constantly yearning to fit completely in a culture organized against reflection and self-awareness. Titus is self-aware enough to sense that his internet-mediated life is missing something essential but he can’t quite figure out what that something is. There’s really no choice. He’s still a kid and the world is the world. Titus fails over and over, constantly struggling but coming up short. This was my senior year of high school.
Feed was published in 2002. I’m sure of this because I kept checking the publication date. I am astonished at how prescient this story is, written 5 years before the first iPhone, yet anticipating clearly our smart-phone obsessed, social media drenched lives. There is exuberant joy in the constant connection to friends, information, and entertainment, but the exuberance comes with a heavy price — distraction, vanity and, alas, the veneration of shared stupidity. Interspersed throughout are news dispatches about ecological disasters, riots over economic disparity and speeches from an American president who rallies the country with a program of nationalist consumerism. You probably know where this is going. We are consumers before we are citizens.
There are so many wonderful moments throughout this book. One of my favorite is Violet’s rant about the rapturous, life-changing wonders of Coca Cola. I have read few books that present such a clear-sighted picture of today dressed up like the distant future. Disorienting, disturbing and true. Must read.