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Feed | Class #4, 2016

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?

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. Naomi Forman says:

    Wow – Feed felt so exhilarating and surprising throughout. I could hardly put it down, and when I did, it was mostly to tell my friends how strange and fantastic this book was. The language, syntax, and characters all felt new and different to me and held my attention throughout. I loved that M.T. Anderson created his own slang and his own way of speaking, and trusted readers to figure out what was truly happening or being said at different points.

    It did feel funny reading it in the context of today’s contemporary reality. I did wonder how far we were from the place depicted; after all, the Internet DOES increasingly know our individual tastes and wants, and algorithms are sophisticated enough now to design experiences tailored specifically for us. I wonder if a book written about our time would feel dystopian to a person living in the 1700s, and then I wonder whether whether I (or other readers, or M.T. Anderson himself) are simply being grumpy luddites, and are just feeling nostalgic for more “simple” times. Did not Violet sometimes seem like that? Was she too angry, too unwilling to engage in the realities of the world around her and make the best of her situation? But then, how can we fault her for wanting to remain pure and detached from corporate interests? But— how do we challenge the way our world is now without disengaging, detaching, and missing out on the positive opportunities technology and the modern world offers??

    Apparently, this book inspired me to ask more questions than it answered. Which I think is okay–which I actually think is the mark of a truly wonderful, innovative, and thought-provoking novel. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while, and I can’t wait to introduce it to students.

  2. Kate Cunningham says:

    I have a read my fair share of novels about a dystopian society of the future, so as I started to read Feed I was expecting more of the same elements, such as people separated into districts, or according to their affiliations, based on whether they are pretty or ugly, etc. But I can honestly say that Feed left me feeling differently than any other dystopian novel I’ve read, with something approaching discomfort. Some of the descriptions in the book were comical to be sure, and somewhat reminiscent of the Jetsons (flying cars going through tubes, night clubs on the moon, etc). But at the same time, there are so many parallels to today’s society – not just thematically but literally – that it gave me pause. Google Glass allows people to do almost anything internet-based without a device. More and more communication is happening through texts or social media rather than in person, and people constantly broadcast their thoughts to the world in 140 characters or less. Nearly every time I am on a website, there are ads targeted specifically to brands I like or items I have searched for in the past. I’m not anti-technology, I actually consider some of those things to be awesome conveniences that make life a lot easier, but I think that dissonance made the book resonate with me more deeply. To Lauren’s question, I actually don’t think the advancement of technology since 2002 limits the impact of this book. Rather, I think it makes it even more thought-provoking and interesting to discuss with today’s students, as they consider the benefits and drawbacks of technology and communication in 2016.
    This is unconnected to the major theme, but did anyone else find Anderson’s invented slang (like “meg brag” and “in mal”) unnecessarily distracting? I appreciate the idea of showing how limited language has become for the characters, but I thought the amount of time I had to spend using context clues took away from the novel at times.

  3. Kate Palleschi says:

    I remember reading this book several years ago and finding it to be very upsetting in a lot of ways, and reading it again I still feel that way. I never liked the idea of such invasive technology and also of not being able to function in society without it. As we move closer and closer to having something similar available to us in reality, I am heartened by how it has yet to actually take hold of us – I remember thinking that Google Glass was going to be the end, but it basically crashed and burned, which I didn’t mind so much. I think that Feed is a great novel to use to discuss, as Lauren mentioned in the post, the effects, positive and negative, that technology has had on humanity and to look at our own individual technology use. I think that an interesting way of looking at the novel, as well, might be to look at the complete history of technology and use that as a springboard for discussing technological innovation, as well.

  4. It took a good while for me to fully enter M.T. Anderson’s Feed. Similar to Kate P., I found myself disturbed by the extreme and harsh nature of this world. A world without natural growth, a world covered in black goop, a world where humans now showcase their lesions as if prizes upon their flesh.
    Unlike my classmates, I have not yet heard of google glass and am now worried I have missed something in our own world similar to Titan’s? To think more about Lauren’s questions, is this still as relevant to our 2016 teens? Does this book have a shelf life? In 2002, the time of publication, my recently purchased first cell phone did not yet have internet access. It was still used for “emergencies.” It was not until the last five years that I feel an explosion of fast paced exposure or “feeding” of information. And although most teens today have this and more at their fingertips and have since they were small children, I believe, like both Kates, that it still raises important questions, old and new, that are absolutely worth investigating, even if from a slightly different angle. Where will this angle be in 20 more years?
    In particular, the strange but somewhat tender relationship between Titus and Violet contains shreds of humanity that are worth looking into. I couldn’t help but think of how talking face to face “in the air” can make anyone, especially young people feel awkward; “I was feeling completely squeam”(169). In Violet’s character, there is the past and Titus, even if squeamish, is quite clearly attracted to this. I, like Kate C., found the character’s dialect and expressions somewhat jarring and, at times, wasn’t sure I completely understood sections of the novel. I often found myself saying, “huh?” But, as I adapted, I also believe it was one of the characteristics that made this futuristic world more believable. I thought about how teens speak to one another and felt this was a well developed aspect of the setting created by Anderson. When hearing my students chat with one another outside of the classroom, I am often unsure of some of their phrases and “code” they use. I think, with some support, many teens would appreciate this aspect of the dialogue as well.

  5. Maiba Bodrick says:

    As many have said before me, the glaring comparisons between this futuristic world and the present are quite poignant. That being said– Kate P. offered an answer to the question I had when I finished reading the novel: Why would I use this novel in my class? I feel drawn into the environment but have absolutely no connection to the characters. For me, the vivid, repetitive and eerily familiar descriptions come at the expense of character development. Perhaps the Kristen Cashore reading left me too amped up for characters with fully developed back stories meticulously crafted into their dialogue. Are all the characters intentionally flat or loosely developed? Is that a characteristic of science fiction? Am I to be satisfied with the “shreds of humanity” (so accurate Debra!) between Titus and Violet? Am I the only one wondering more about the internal struggle behind Titus deciding to delete all of Violet’s memories? About Quendy’s journey to covering her entire body is lesions??? This novel taught me that setting, although thought provoking, is not enough for me to enjoy or want to teach a novel.

  6. Montserrat Cubillos says:

    I struggled a lot while reading Feed. The jargon the characters use exhausted me, and so did the ads that were always coming up on Titus’ feed. Yet, I could see how these were necessary to build the decayed world the novel portrays. Like Maiba, I also felt like the characters were too plain and the novel too repetitive. I think these features of the novel may be necessary to depict the dumbness of Titus and his friends, and the lack of purpose in their lives. Nevertheless, this fact did not compensate how irritated I was by the novel. Perhaps it was too long…

    As a teacher, though, I can see how the novel may spark interesting questions and ethical debates. I wonder whether have enjoyed this book. Like Debra, I also got lost at some points. Anderson is very ungenerous with details that explain the context. As a reader, I liked that he did not give huge descriptions but just allowed me to gradually create a mental image of the world. Yet, I do not know how teenagers react to this lack of certainty. If I had to use Feed in my classroom, I think it would be best to do it with high school students. However, since there other dystopian novels that can spark similar conversations and that I think are more enjoyable, I probably would not want to teach Feed.

  7. Faye Maison says:

    While reading Feed, it never occurred to me that the book was written in 2002. It felt incredibly relevant to me now as we continue to advance technology and have it proliferate our lives. I think the fact that it was written in 2002 makes it even more eerie. The novel seems like it is supposed to make us uneasy about technology, but I think it’s relevance to today’s world makes it even more uncomfortable to think about it. Advertisements in the book are a great example of a connection to today’s society. On social media platforms like Instagram, for example, ads are embedded in Instagram subscriptions as if the ad could have been posted by a friend. Sometimes only on second glance do you realize you were looking at something a company paid for, not something your friend produced.

    I agree with other commenters that the characters were plain and repetitive. I also think that was the point. A section of the book states that people are becoming more and more basic. They are easier to sell to and become increasingly uninteresting. The term “basic” has entered our everyday speech about what some people like and how they comport themselves. What does it say if students are reading a book with basic characters? What does it tell them about themselves? I’m not familiar with dystopian literature. Maybe my impression of Feed would be different if I was more familiar with the topic. In any case, I think the book is an excellent tool. I would encourage students to read the book along with sections of books like You Are Not a Gadget. Writers and people at the forefront of the technology world have thought and are thinking about the impact of Web 2.0. I think it would help students think critically about the world before us and their role in it.

  8. Shravya Mallavarapu says:

    I can completely relate to the commenters above who found the invented slang in this book unbearable — it remained annoying, distracting and made it extremely difficult for me to navigate throughout the entire story. I can’t really pin it to any one reason but I thought it was also very forced at a few places. 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. What I understood as Anderson’s message through Feed is that technology, which is definitely not an evil in itself should never be prioritized to replace interactions with real people. This book made me think and ask a lot of questions I did not think I would be asking. I have been thinking about the satirical portray of technology in this book, and like many, I initially felt guilty, scared, appalled by the possibilities of how technology could change the human condition. Through the process I also realized that I am also an active participant in advancing culture of technology. I still do not really know where I stand in terms of what extent I would want this culture to be encouraged and advanced. Technology and its influence has become so normalized in our own existences, that we forget how truly remarkable it really is sometimes. I am wondering if it is really technology that’s so frightening or if it is the constant un-trackable change? I wasn’t very fond of the book and I admit I did not really enjoy it a lot but it did get me thinking.

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