by M.T. Anderson
In A Nutshell
"We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
Meet Titus, our chronically bored and tragically hip main character. Replace "the moon" with "the mall" or "the movies" or "Fort Lauderdale," and he'd be just like you, with one big difference: he has the feed, which is a sort of super-Internet that's wired directly into his brain. (Okay, we know this doesn't sound so futuristic, but Feed was written in 2002.)
Titus lives in a futuristic society that is so high-tech it would make Bill Gates weep. We're talking the very cutting edge in advanced gadgetry, like flying cars and extra arms you can add onto your shoulders to Amaze Your Friends at Parties. But it's not all shiny spaceships and nano-rainbows. Of course not: this is YA literature of the 21st century. M.T. Anderson creates a bleak dystopia, a nightmarish vision of a near-future America where the environment's trashed, all the forests are gone, and people's skin is falling off. But, hey! NBD. There's always the feed to keep you occupied with big fun games, and tons of swag to buy, like tachyon shorts, Top Quark swimming pools, and fake birds.
In the midst of all this, Titus meets Violet, the girl of his dreams. Yay! Yay, that is, until someone hacks their feeds and Violet's body starts to shut down. Ordinarily, this would also be NBD—high-tech futuristic society and all—but, because her family doesn't have any money, the corporations refuse to help her. (This is how you know Feed doesn't take place in our world. /sarcasm.)
If you happen to be a stuffy librarian slash parent slash teacher-type, here's some good news: Feed was nominated for a National Book Award. That's how you know it's literature. And if you're just jonesing for some dystopian fiction á la The Giver and The Hunger Games, the Feed should be just your jam.
Why Should I Care?
In case you didn't pick it up from the Nutshell, here's a major reason to care: you're already living in the feed.
Sure, it's a slightly lower tech version—your feed is in your pocket on a smartphone rather than mainlined directly into your brain, but we're getting pretty close. When M.T. Anderson wrote this book in 2002, the Internet was definitely a Thing, but with one major difference: most of today's major social networking sites were still tiny twinkles in their creator's eyes. Instagram? Facebook? We had to get by with Friendster. It was the dark ages, yo.
Sure, television, cable, radio, and magazines did a pretty good job of telling us what to think and how to be cool, but social networking sites basically boosted the reach of traditional media to the Nth power with the added bonus of a more individualized experience and connectivity with your peers.
At the heart of this experience is the competition for your dollars. You're supposed to think that it's all about entertainment and content, but the puppeteer twitching the strings is corporations that are all about advertising and market share. And teens happen to be an especially attractive market. Want to be popular? Avoid being an outcast? Of course you do. And if you buy these shoes/that shirt/this skin cream, your dreams will come true.
So, we may not have this type of hyped-up Internet experience right inside our heads, but we're still definitely part of the feed—a feed that just might be feeding on us.
And that's food for thought.