In an era of rapidly developing technology and ever-pervasive advertisements, speculative fiction is flourishing. FEED, by M.T. Anderson, is a novel that examines our relationship with the Internet. In Anderson’s work, the Internet—aptly named “the feed”—is planted directly into the brains of the population. While there are benefits to their instantaneous and limitless access to knowledge, people are also bombarded with endless streams of advertisements. Numbed by the constant barrage of commercials and reality television, the characters live in willful ignorance of the pollution of the Earth and the corruption of the corporations that provide their media. Looking beyond their hover-cars and novel drugs, FEED holds a mirror to today’s society and extrapolates a very plausible future. Most notably, it showcases the different forms of our dependence on the Internet, for better or for worse.
One aspect of the characters’ dependency on the Internet is apparent at the beginning of the novel. The main character, Titus, and his friends, go on vacation to the Moon, where they are assaulted by a political group called the Coalition of Pity. Their feeds are hacked and they are knocked unconscious by the police. After this incident, the group wakes up to find their feeds silent. Titus states: “Suddenly, our heads felt real empty.” As the group recuperates in the hospital, they quickly find themselves bored. Their dependency on the feed in this instance is shown in their discomfort with quietude. They are accustomed to and even comforted by the constant stream of broadcasting. Though the characters learn to find their own fun in the radio silence, they quickly forget their shared experience once their feeds’ function returns. It seems their dependency is much like addiction; the drug seems necessary to the addicted. This situation is not entirely far-fetched when compared to smartphone dependency. The consistent buzz of information emanating from cell phones has become normalized, and when disconnected from it, the resulting silence can be uncomfortable and sometimes eerie.
The second and more haunting dependency on the feed is revealed as Violet, Titus’s girlfriend, finds her feed malfunctioning after the attack. This breakdown progresses much like a neurodegenerative disease, causing her to lose her mobility and memories. She applies for a compensated replacement for her feed, but her application is rejected on the grounds that she does not have a consistent purchasing history. Therefore, she is not considered a worthy investment by the private companies that provide the feed and its services. Her father says: “We Americans are interested only in the consumption of our products. We have no interest in how they were produced, or what happens to them once we discard them.” Her story shows how the consumerist culture benefits those that are willing to subsume themselves in it, and punishes those that do not subscribe. Violet’s predicament is not only heartbreaking but horrifying, as it illuminates the prioritization of profit over all else. Simply possessing the feed condemns all the characters to dependency on the companies that created it.
The themes in FEED are eerily familiar and applicable to the present day. By juxtaposing Titus, who subscribes to the feed’s culture, and Violet, a “dissident with a heart of gold,” Anderson captures the conflict in desiring a perfect life while resisting the companies that created that very idea. He intersperses Titus’ complacent narration with moments of lucidity—a news broadcast, an unnamed narrator’s reflection—to create a clear-sighted commentary on the impact of the advertising that permeates modern society. As it appears, despite the constant flow from the feed, everyone still seems hungry for more.