Feed

 …

Titus is a typical teenage boy who enjoys hanging out with friends, going to parties, and spending spring break on the moon. He is also (along with the rest of society) constantly wired in, having had a “feed” implanted into his brain since birth. The feed does everything: it is source of entertainment and information, and even monitors biological processes. In short, the feed is a given, something that is rarely considered, but just is; that is, at least, until the day a strange man at one of the moon’s nightclubs hacks into Titus’s and his friends’ feeds, forcing them to be shut down to prevent contamination.

After a few agonizingly boring days in the hospital, the group recovers, and  everything seems back to normal. Titus begins to pursue a relationship with a girl, Violet, whom he met on the moon. Violet is not like other girls, which is initially what draws him to her. She uses big words and isn’t obsessed with trends; in short, she likes to think for herself, which is rare for anyone in Titus’s world. Violet’s feed was also hacked at the nightclub, but what Titus doesn’t know is that it was irreparably damaged. Her upbringing wasn’t as privileged as his, so she didn’t get a feed until her brain was already mostly developed: as a result, her feed was not as securely implanted. This feed is ultimately her undoing.

Violet begins to fall apart, while Titus watches helplessly. Various body parts become paralyzed for hours at a time. Her desperate entreaties for help are rejected on the basis that her consumer profile is too unpredictable. Titus’s friends are no help, as they feel only annoyed at Violet’s behavior. Titus alone is concerned, but he, too, is easily distracted by the comforts and diversions that the feed offers in the place of actual human contact. Can he rebel against it, or will he sink only deeper into it?

This book is not about the plot as much as it is about the world these characters are living in, and what everyone is allowing to happen. Violet’s tragic decline is hardly the only negative result of the feed, but most people are too stupid, or, at least, too complacent, to care. The feed has reduced its users to mindless consumers whose every desire can be met instantaneously. As a result, any problem with the feed can be smoothed over with the offer of an immediate solution. It doesn’t even matter how ridiculous this solution is: Has your feed been causing you to develop gruesome lesions on your skin? Good news! The teens on “Oh? Wow! Thing!” have just turned those lesions into a fashion statement. Collect them all!

Although Feed is classified as YA, it appears to play more into the fears of those of us who remember a time without Facebook and smart phones. Younger teens might even be taken with the idea of making all of their devices an inextricable part of them. After all, we’re all so wired in already. Superficially, of course, the feed seems very convenient: it knows what we like and gives helpful suggestions for our next purchases; it allows us to communicate with others individually instead of out loud, and even lets us share memories; it connects us to any resource we need, so that we all can access information that makes us look like geniuses. Still, the feed has a dark side, the extent of which even the novel cannot fully fathom.

Most of its darkness is only hinted at, which makes the story that much more realistic and unnerving. There are no tidy answers to resolve every thread of the novel: Feed is messy, provocative, and deeply disturbing. Although it often plays as a dark satire, it is a pitch-black one, equal parts funny and sad. At the end, readers will not feel hopeful and renewed, but very, very worried. Still, Feed is a great book for anyone who chooses to approach the future cautiously. It is smart, thought-provoking, and impossibly clever. Better yet, it offers an experience even more immersive than watching the latest episode of “Oh? Wow! Thing!” on the feed.

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