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feedAt first perusal, M.T. Anderson’s Feed is an entertaining tale of privileged futuristic teens who spend spring break on the moon. Their carelessness about the environment, their pitiful lack of knowledge, and technology-induced overstimulation seems so exaggerated as to invite easy laughter. Not far into the book, however, we start to recognize every aspect of their lives as a mirror for the foibles in our own — satire at its best. As a high school teacher, I am hard-pressed to find a novel more provocative of rich discussion than Feed — about the dangers of technology, about the evolution (or devolution) of language, about our obligations as global citizens. But as technology catches up with the 2002 publication’s originally far-fetched vision of an internet-chip implanted in our brains, is the novel running out of time? What does it have to say to the techno-saturated generations of today?

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Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.

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  1. Nicole Shelpman says:

    I certainly hope we’re not running out of time to discuss the issues about technology and society that are raised by the novel! I think that this book has the power to strike a nerve with techno-saturated generations (of which we are all a part, at least to some extent) because M.T. Anderson found an effective balance between what is already real and what could be real in the future. Several conditions of our lives could use some critical examination – like our willful ignorance about the effects of consumerism and dependence on technology – but it is difficult, especially for younger people, to take a step back and look at society from a different perspective. This is what Anderson forces the reader to do. By hyperbolizing a few key aspects of society, Anderson presents a dystopian future that shines a spotlight on less desirable conditions of our lives, like the increasing control of technology and corporations, that we are gradually learning to accept. Perhaps we don’t view our attachment to smart phones as a problem, but I am willing to bet that most people are not ready to have an internet chip implanted in their brains. The question, however, is how much difference exists between the dystopian world and our reality.

    I especially appreciated the fact that Titus is an extremely unlikeable narrator. Though Violet helps to give him an opportunity to resist the feed, he does not turn into the dystopia-fighting hero that I initially hoped he would. My strong feelings against Titus raise a couple of questions. 1) Can we blame Titus for being a product of his society? 2) How do my feelings against Titus relate to my feelings about myself as a member of our current society?

    Finally, the language used in the novel is fascinating. While at first it was very jarring to read words like “meg” and “null,” I found that I noticed the slang much less by the end of the novel. I was wondering if anyone else noticed this as well. Does the use of slang decrease by the end of the story, or am I just an impressionable reader who got used to the language?

  2. Liz Goodenough says:

    I don’t think we are running out of time to read, discuss, and learn from Feed either. Just as Orwell’s 1984 is still relevant to contemporary readers, Anderson asks us to consider questions that are timeless: what type of society are we creating with our day-to-day choices? I think satirical dystopian novels often retain their relevance even when the technology becomes outdated because they expose dark aspects of human nature are always relevant. As a reader, some aspects of Feed are a little too close for comfort, particularly when compared with Google glass, SpaceX, and individualized online marketing. Anderson’s hyperbole definitely made me feel icky and uncomfortable about technologies that seem like a novelty, convenience, or minor infringement on personal space. He asks us to consider: where is the line?

    As Nicole observed, it can be even more difficult for young people, who have grown up with way more access to technology and virtual life and communities than previous generations, to take a step back. I think the dis-likability of Titus and his friends would make this novel particularly provocative for adolescents. The characters in Feed do not become Katniss, Tris, Will, or Jonah. Society isn’t saved as in The Matrix or Wall-E. Instead, like Brave New World or 1984, we watch the characters help destroy themselves. Further, Feed forces readers to make comparisons to our own “techno-saturated lives” and social values. I would be curious to hear what middle/high school students think about the decisions Anderson’s characters make.

  3. Nicole Eslinger says:

    This book was certainly effective in striking an uncomfortable cord with me, and I agree with Nicole in that I feel it would do the same for many young readers today. Perhaps, to an even greater extent. There was an incredibly powerful balance between the world that actually exists for us today and the potential dystopian society of the (near?) future. This created a story that hit very close to home.

    The novel highlights American consumerism and a pervasive ignorance towards the origins and consequences of our day to day luxuries. Actually, I found that I felt somewhat guilty while reading because I am responsible for many of the careless actions of characters throughout the book. Liz makes a great point about technology: where is the line? We all love it. It makes our lives more convenient and entertaining. Yet, what is the cost? I believe that this novel suggests it is perhaps a loss of current awareness and human connection.

    As far as the language used in the book, I initially found that it was extremely irritating to read. I think that Anderson laid it on a bit thicker at the beginning, perhaps to stage the setting of the book. By the end, I think that it was a combination of desensitization to the language and also slight decline in the usage of this language by Anderson. Despite my initial irritation, the slang did add to my sense of the novel as a futuristic story.

  4. Emily Sapienza says:

    I have been debating recently whether to finally give in and trade in my old flip phone for an iPhone. Reading Feed helped me make up my mind: I’m going to keep holding off. For as long as I can.

    I found this book disturbing in a few ways. It is dark. Like, literally dark. Myers does a great job of evoking the underground suburb pod world of the American future. And I really felt the total absence of anything natural or living besides the characters in the book and few references to other animals: the cockroaches swarming over the pods, the seagull flying over the beef farm looking for scraps. It made me want to drive out of the city into the country, made me appreciate the trees on my street and my houseplants in a new way.

    I am all the more disturbed to have found out that this book was written in 2002. Before the smart phone onslaught. Well before Google Glass. Yipes! I realize that the intent of fiction like this is to exaggerate characteristics of current society, but I find the parallels way too close. My gmail has been showing me the same pair of shoes I looked at on Zappos three weeks ago. It’s messed up. Not right. I do not want to live with google and zappos and facebook and other companies tracking me like that.

    And even more problematic is technology’s ramifications on relationship. Face to face human relationship. I rode in an elevator at Gutman on Thursday and everyone else in there was looking at their phone. It’s creepy. What happened to silence? Simple boredom? Time for reflection?

    And really the statement on our environmental future was so bleak; I am sitting in a room right now that has two of three windows open because my landlords keep the temp set so high (despite my repeated requests that they turn it down). They are paying money AND burning fossil fuels to pump hot air out of my open windows. (Keeping the windows shut it gets above 80 degrees in my bedroom.)

    Reading this book was upsetting because I don’t want to like in a world that looks anything like the world of Feed. But I already do. And I feel similarly to Violet’s father: at a certain point if everyone around you has a technology you are only hampering yourself if you choose not to use it. But what are we all losing with the adoption, without reflection, of so much technology.

    I agree with what others have said: i would be fascinated to hear what teenagers think of this book. I already know teens who seriously, deeply freak out when you try to take their cell phones away from them. It’s messed up. I wonder if they’d have the same reaction to the book as a luddite old lady like me.

    I really appreciate the comment above that by making Titus SO unlikeable we are forced to look at ourselves, our own choices that are similar. Great observation! I think it’s right on. That said, it was also hard to really ever get a gauge on any feeling he was having in the book; nothing felt authentic to such a level that i think it somewhat compromised the quality of the narrative.

    One more observation I have is that sci-fi needs to spend a lot of time defining, redrawing the world so readers can enter into it. While it’s a requisite of any genre that takes place in a starkly different “world”, I do find it distracting. The level to which scenery and the trappings of daily life are referenced is disproportionate wrt the rest of the text. My assessment of the modern vernacular falls under this category; it was heavy handed. Though I did appreciate that Titus’ father said “Dude.” Classy touch, Myers.

    My old cell phone and I are going to send fewer texts, and AT LEAST have more phone conversations, if not in person ones. I am committed to leaving my house more often without said cell phone, and would like to spend my winter break AS FAR AWAY FROM MY COMPUTER AS POSSIBLE. I will also soon plant a garden and work harder towards preserving the environment and ending global warming. All as a result of reading this book. So that’s something.

  5. Ugh. The book that just would not end. If anything, I was left feeling hostile to this book, irritated that I had just wasted hours of my life that I can’t get back. A satire on consumption and technology, sure, but it seemed like the real story was about Violet and how her life intersected with these fields. That story didn’t become dominant until the latter end of the book though, which made me wonder about all of the stuff that had occurred before we find out about Violet’s condition. What was the purpose of it all?!? To set up this world for the reader?? You can do that in a few pages or just drop hints here and there. More than that is too much.

    The unfamiliar vernacular–while believable in theory because of the story’s distant temporal setting–was irritating. I agree with Nicole E. in that it was set on a bit too thick in the beginning though I’ll also contend that it was that way throughout the whole book as well. Something else too emphasized were the lesions. They reminded me of our present-day love of cigarettes and drugs, but instead of the damage being done to the body on the inside, the lesions allow us to see the destruction’s cause on the outside of the body. Still…grotesque… and unappreciated.

    Okay, okay, so I guess my primary beef is: what narrative is the reader supposed to hone in on? The narrative of society, or that of Violet and Titus? I found Violet’s story much more compelling than what’s happening in the futuristic society. Because of that, I think the story would be more effective and appealing if that author had condensed a 300-page book… into 100 pages or less.

  6. Meredith Morrison says:

    There seems to be a common thread between Nicole, Liz, and Warren’s post concerning the use of futuristic slang or colloquialisms. About 50 pages into the book, I felt as though I should call my grandmother and apologize to her for all of us grandkids and our constant use of social media lingo around her. While I found the vernacular annoying and distracting, I wonder how my high school students would react to it. When I taught Catcher in the Rye, I remember how focused they were on Holden’s “weird” choices in words, such as calling people “phony.” We actually had a conversation about an author’s choice to include colloquialisms or slang in a text, and I wonder if students might experience a bit of a “a-ha” moment when they are [hopefully] able to make connections from the fictional futuristic world of Feed to their own technologically saturated lives. I also wondered how my struggling readers might fair with a text like this. It reminded me of the stream of consciousness voice of How I Live Now’s protagonist Daisy. While her teenage voice provided a unique perspective and a view into her mind, the complete devoid to grammatical conventions and capitalization could be too much of a distraction for some students.
    For awhile, I felt a connection to this futuristic world and its overwhelming consumerism, while I simultaneously found myself distancing myself from it. I had a hard time connecting with many of the characters; I didn’t know if the characters were purposefully written to be somewhat vapid and annoying. While I can appreciate the satirical social commentary about the potentially devastating effects of a media and technology obsessed world, I (similar to Warren’s point) wonder to what extent was the first 100 pages completely necessary. By the time we got to what I think was one of the main plot points, I was already somewhat annoyed that it took so long to get there.

  7. Pook Panyarachun says:

    I had an incredibly difficult time reading this book. Not only was the language difficult for me to get used to, the whole concept was quite disturbing. I can see that Anderson’s use of futuristic slang is clever in a way that it separates the time frame from us now to the future where language and slangs have changed but I could not help but be constantly annoyed and at times confused. That being said I felt that Meredith’s comment was on point. This is probably how my grandparents or even parents might feel hearing us use slags now. How annoying it must be to them being surrounded by a constant flow of strange inaccessible word that butcher language. I also agree with Nicole in that Anderson might be pushing the line in its heavy usage, in my opinion too much.
    The future that Feed is set in is quite disturbing because it could happen. At the rate of our constant interaction with technology, it would seem that our future is one that might be tied with technology and its use to influence the mass.
    I am feeling similar to Warren in that I felt as if it would not end. I also felt stuck during my reading, as if the narrative just did not progress in the same way as other books we have read. The real narrative was actually Violet and her condition and struggles, the other information about this fantasy future world was simply extra and at times in the way.

  8. Kara Brennan says:

    It’s interesting because I was saying to my group last Monday that I always laugh that you can recognize a YA book by the fact that there is always a made up slang word that the kids are saying (like “zounds” in Far Far Away). But this book took it to a whole new level! I also found it jarring at first, but then as I got into it I found myself just sort of skimming over their slang words rather than taking the time to figure out what they were talking about. Like Meredith and Pook I was thinking about how it can’t be that different from when kids are running around talking about tweets and walls and memes and gifs and vines etc., etc. I didn’t feel as strongly as some others about the book, but a someone who gets really nervous reading futuristic stories about where our society could be heading, this was pretty scary to me. We now have computers in our glasses and our watches (and the other night I saw someone casually riding down the sidewalk on a tiny electric wheel… like a unicycle Segway!) so I think that this book is definitely still relevant. It’s obviously dystopian and extreme, but even the name “feed” is more relevant than ever with our addiction to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram feeds. It would definitely be fascinating to see what teenagers think of this.

  9. Catherine Healy says:

    I agree with the commenters above who found the invented slang in this book unbearable — it remained annoying and distracting for me throughout the entire story, in part because it felt SO forced. (If I ever see or hear the phrase “meg youch” again, I will claw out my own eyes.)

    That aside, I also found Feed provocative and disturbing — particularly Anderson’s prescient description of the targeted advertising we now see every day in our own Internet feeds. If anything, I think this book is more relevant now than it was at the time of its publication, since its portrayal of technology’s infiltration of our lives has become less and less of a window and more and more of a mirror.

    My favorite moment in the entire book came early on, when Loga visited her hospitalized friends and told them the story of the girls’ favorite show as it was being broadcast over her feed. It reminded me of the dark ages of 1997, when I watched Dawson’s Creek every week and then faithfully called my best friend (who wasn’t allowed to watch it) to report the entire plot. When his parents decided to let him watch the show the next year, we both quickly lost interest in it. It turned out that what made the story interesting was not the plot or the characters, but the human interaction we shared as we laughed over them together. To me, this seems to be Anderson’s message in Feed — technology is not in itself evil, but it should never replace interactions with real people.

  10. Emma Roose says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the satirical portray of technology in this book, and like many, I initially felt guilty, disgusted, frightened, and ashamed by the possibilities of how technology could change the human condition. What about relationships? Human interaction? Experiencing nature? Babies understand how to use iPads before they learn to talk. High schoolers’ preference in communication now favors Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat rather than face-to-face communication. How horrible! How sad! … and then I realize, who are we to place moral judgment on the way technology should or shouldn’t be? Are we all not active participants in the advancing culture of technology? I mean, look at this blog for example. We are communicating with each other through the Internet, probably typing our responses alone with our computers or tablets, not interacting with anyone while we do it. But is that a bad thing? Is having this blog more isolating to us or more engaging? Sure many people might exchange actual physical human interaction with sitting on a computer or browsing their phone, but do we really feel less connected because of it? As I write this, my Polish roommate is skyping with her family back in Europe on her laptop, seeing their faces, hearing their voices… because of technology. Isn’t that amazing?!

    Technology and its influence has become so normalized in our own existences, that we forget how truly remarkable it really is sometimes. The mere fact that each of us have cell phones and can communicate with each other at all moments of the day, no matter where in the world we are. That e-mail exists and that we can send instant messages to peers, co-workers, bosses, professors, ANYONE, and have an almost instant-response. I mean, can you imagine going through college and not being able to e-mail a professor? Is that anti-social of us? Is it representative of a decline in the student experience? What about going online and checking directions to a location? Seeing what the temperature is outside? Getting newspaper headlines in real-time? Ordering a book on Amazon? Quickly searching Wikipedia for a quick answer to a question? Getting invited to a party through Facebook. We don’t think twice about these conveniences anymore. How is any of this so different from what information is available to the people on the feed? We all have feeds in our lives already. So what is it exactly that makes the feed in “FEED” so scary to us? As many suggested, at what point to do you draw the line between acceptable and too much? Is it not, perhaps, a bit of a “pot calling the kettle black” kind of situation?

    Is it really the technology we’re afraid of? Or is it just change? I admittedly wasn’t crazy about the book either, but it did get me thinking about whether it’s advancing technology that makes us so uneasy or the idea of not being able to place ourselves within our ever-evolving world.

  11. I didn’t find the slang as distracting as some other people did, but it did a good job of sounding like a mix of teenage level words and 1984’s doublespeak. It was running in the other direction from Nadsat from A Clockwork Orange, which was appropriate because things were getting watered down through the feed, rather than being an air of cultivated pretentiousness as Alex and his gang of teens represent.

    As others have mentioned, the level of intrusion is what is at the heart of the frightening aspect of the book. It’s like there’s no way to have any quiet for yourself, but then again, if you’ve been raised since consciousness with voices in your head they probably feel more comforting than overwhelming, even when you can’t turn them off yourself. I was curious about what would have been going on outside of the US. Surely other countries in the world would have been interested in the feed technology, so I wasn’t sure what Anderson was doing making it out to be a US versus the world coalition conflict. Perhaps there was a war, which is where a lot of the radiation could have come from? But then again, the ozone layer is most likely gone.

    I do somewhat agree with Warren saying that the book went on too long. I thought that a lot of the examples of corporate culture were repeated ad nauseam. However, one angle I would have appreciated seeing would have been to explore what benefits instantaneous information could provide. In the dystopia of corporate controlled schools this is largely impossible, but we did see it in a somewhat mutated version through Violet’s father. However, knowing that all information is available still makes the synthesis of it useful, so critical thinking and making connections will still have a place in a connected society.

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