All posts by John Burns

Longer Blog Post #1 – The Feed and the Loss of Individuality

In this post I will examine Feed by M.T. Anderson and how this novel explores the melding together of humanity and technology and how, through this integration humanity itself is lost. The Feed is something that is transplanted into ones brain that allows them to instantly access databases and all manner of internet 2.0 type things any one can imagine. To begin, what is interesting about the ‘Feed’ itself is where the author decided to place it in his characters. The implant was placed directly into ones brain; this allowed for instant access to all manner of things, it also gave corporate interests direct access to your thoughts and personal information. The author, in determining the Feed should be placed inside someone head, is making a claim that there is no longer any boundary between man and machine. What distinguishes mankind from everything else is our ability to engage in logical, conscious thought, we are creatures of instincts in some ways, but we have the ability to consciously determine our own lives. In the modern era, while it is becoming harder to do so, we can consciously choose what messages to ignore, what advertisements to turn off or ‘x’ out of as quickly as possible. The internet now is just the beta version of what the Feed is in Anderson’s book. Already today corporations and data miners have the ability to arrange your Facebook home page to include advertisements targeting you. If you change your relationship status, within a week you’ll start getting online dating advertisements; if you ‘check in’ to a lot of local restaurants you may start seeing advertisements for other nearby restaurants. This is all happening now, but we can easily ignore it; there is a barrier between us and the machine. So perhaps, in this context we have still maintained our humanity. In the world of the Feed this separation is nonexistent. The Feeds allows private interests to interfere with your thoughts. In a sense, there is no way to exercise any type of control over your thoughts and interference from outside sources; they become one and the same. Before we go any further, there is a matter of human agency. In theory one can stop interacting with the feed, or perhaps not even get the implant (only 73% of people have it) but one has to wonder if there is really a choice here. To begin you have to receive the implant early, otherwise it will have dire health consequences (as Violet’s case shows), and on top of that, is it something one could simply refuse? To do so means communication between yourself and others may be significantly different, perhaps more difficult. If you were to get the Feed, how easy would it be able to tune out a finely working machine that gives you access to anything you want instantly, with products and information tailored to your consumer profile? The Feed seems to turn human agency on its head, rather than do nothing and remain disconnect as is the case today (social networks are available to most people but not all and its easy to stay off the grid if one chooses, also in order to get onto one of these sites it takes a conscious effort to sign up, upload pictures ect), in the world of the Feed, to do nothing is to succumb to the Feed and have your inner most self exposed to all who wish to see it. It takes conscious effort, a herculean effort to stay off of the Feed in Anderson’s book.

The Feed blurs the line between the individual, his/her ‘profile’ and the community and others on the Feed. It seems to degrade individuality into something simply based on what you choose to consume. Everything is part of a larger system except for your tailor made corporate profile, and that is merely a database on consumer preference. Titus experiences this loss of individuality when, at the end of the story, he cannot draw upon anything other than movie trailer quotes to attempt to describe his memories of Violet to her as she lay in a coma. There seems to be no individual experience, just shared ones, perhaps you could also make the leap that there is no individuality.

The novel also seems to suggest that too much technology may be bad for you. Those logged in to the Feed begin to develop lesions on their bodies which some seem to wear as a badge of honor. When Violet’s Feed begins to malfunction her body begins to rapidly deteriorate. Also in the dystopian future the air has become polluted beyond repair and the water has become toxified. All of these things show the negative side to too much technology. This story can be seen as sort of a warning of the not too distant future that awaits us if we don’t change somethings.


Flarf Poetry

Indigo Girls



It really bothers me /

The remaining copies of the s/t lp

Its almost out of print /

Indigo Girls.  Do they still have mullets

Win prize and support our vets /

This knucklehead will be spinning the jammmmms /

That CRU record got out of hand /

Yum! / What the Fuck /

This makes me cry / European Tour starts in 2 weeks!!!

Must.Happen /

Pittsburg is a dump


I made this flarf poem by simply scrolling down my Facebook news feed and recording full status updates or just parts of updates from the first couple of friends/bands. I had no intention of having this poem make any sense, and to a certain extent it doesn’t. I was interested to find that the updates of the first 5 to 6 people all had to do with music or were updates by particular bands I follow, so it seems to have some sort of theme, except for the last line which I am sure is a reference to the Pittsburg Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers game that occurred Saturday night.

Long Post #2 Digital Literature and Narritive Space

The work I chose to explore was an electronic literature piece by Jason Nelson titled With Love, From a Failed planet. I found it using the Electronic Literature Directory, the title sounded intriguing so I chose to explore it and really enjoyed it. The piece is simple and easy to use and had a sense of humor about it. The work itself is pretty straight forward in terms of engaging the reader. When you load up the website, there is a rotating planet that is covered by familiar corporate logs like McDonalds, Facebook and Google. The ‘planet’ is simply a clear 3D sphere that the user can manipulate by simply using their mouse and scrolling over any particular logo. When you scroll over a corporate logo, at the bottom of your screen there appears a unique paragraph about that coincides with that logo. There are 45 logos total and all the paragraphs are numbered one out of 45, two out of 45 ect… but because of the user can click on any logo they want in any order, there is no correct order in which to explore this piece. Though the paragraphs are numbered, the user cannot determine the numerical order unless they scroll through all 45 logos. This is interesting because it allows the reader to dictate pacing and technically no two readings will be the same. There is a way to cheat however; the author gives you the option to download the text where one can view the piece in the correct numerical order. It is interesting to first play around with the digital version and experience the work as the author intended, then to read the word document and see if the piece has lost any of its appeal. When I did this, I noticed almost immediately that the digital version created a sense of cohesion that was lacking in the word document. This is because the paragraphs are not related to one and other. Each paragraph is to be read, not as a piece of a whole, but as an isolated paragraph strictly relating to that particular corporate logo. The cohesion comes from the general theme of the piece and the way this theme is presented in digital form. The author is making a statement about the harmful effects that large, profit driven corporations have on our planet and our species. The first page on the interactive site has a small paragraph written by the author where he sort of explains what his digital piece is all about:

A interactive (sic) logoed world populated with 45 strange and fantastical stories of the societal/cultural failure of influential net portals fast food giants, newspapers, airlines, manufacturers and other oddities.

In many instances, the paragraphs describe reasons a corporation failed by subtly saying describing that corporations effect on the planet or society as a whole. That is to say the author believes these corporations are creating a harmful and unsustainable situation, either in our culture or in our ecosystem, that ultimately leads first to the failure of that corporation and then later to the destruction of our species or planet. These notions are cleverly hidden in the satirical paragraphs through clever word play or absurdist fake situations. For instance, if one clicks on the Taco Bell logo, the paragraph that appears describes the failure of the Taco Bell brand by having a drunk college student have a come-to-Jesus moment when she realized that she would rather spend her money on ‘proper food.’ This ‘shocking revelation’ began to take hold of the campus and other campuses until it became a nationwide fad and Taco Bell was forced to file for bankruptcy. In the Bank of America paragraph, the author details the failure of BoA and says it occurred not because of bailouts or loss of revenue but by their vanity and parasitic nature towards the country. The executives at BoA were killed by ‘off food.’ For a NYE party, they ordered fancy salmon cakes that needed to be shipped in from the coast, but due to shipping problems, the food became tainted and they died. When I read this, I am drawn to the fact that the lynchpin of that story, the thing that caused the failure of BoA was ‘shipping problems’ and I immediately think about how BoA does not really produce anything concrete for the consumer, rather it ‘makes money from money by moving money’ and they play very little in taxes. These shipping problems could have been the effect of a deteriorating infrastructure (roads, bridges, ect) that could arise from pro-business policies and corporate tax revenue (also interesting here is the author takes about BoA receiving nine bailouts from the government and taxpayer). For the Exxonmobil logo, the return of alien dinosaurs causes the corporation to shut down because these highly intelligent beings agreed to eliminate all the pollution in the world in return for mankind no longer desecrating the alien’s relatives. Again, subtly the author is saying that Exxon is in the business of creating pollution and destroying the planet by taking something that is natural and harmless and turning it into something unnatural and harmful. But once pollution is eliminated and Exxon can no longer replicate that process, then they serve no function and fail. There are many other examples like McDonalds failing due to the ‘weight’ of lawsuits filed by relatives of dead burger consumers and Wal-Mart failing because the government, in a time of peace and prosperity, decided to spend money on the nation’s education system which created a country filled with intelligent, fit people which directly cut into Wal-Mart’s consumer base. What the digital part of this project does is it reinforces this idea of a world of powerful corporations and their effect the planet and society. The 3D planet, while a real pain to navigate and keep steady, provides an interesting way to explore the author’s message. The author could have do so without the digital aspect, but it would not have worked well in my opinion because there is an argument being made, but when just reading the paragraphs on a page one by one, that argument certainly would not be as forceful and coherent. The rotating plant keeps you in a narrative space and provides a background for every absurd story of corporate failure.