“We enter a time of calamity. Blood on the tarmac. Fingers in the juicer. Towers of air frozen in the lunar wastes. Models dead on the runways, with their legs facing backward. Children with smiles that can’t be undone. Chicken shall rot in the aisles. See the pillars fall.” (39)
When hacked, these words are the words uttered by Titus and his friends – “a time of calamity” is the world in which M.T. Anderson’s story, Feed, unfolds. And it is in the world that Titus falls in love with unusual Violet, whose questioning and understanding of the state of affairs in this consumer-orientated society leads to her untimely death. It is perhaps rather easy for the reader of this novel to come to the conclusion that technology, at least in the state as depicted in this novel, is inherently destructive to the progress of society given its tendencies to erase almost all traces of individuality against the unremitting noise of the feednet. As readers living in the 21st century however, we cannot help but acknowledge the bettering of society new technologies have enabled.
In what ways is the state of humanity really that different in Feed’s world than our own? “When I looked around, I wanted so much,” (34) said Titus just prior to being hacked. This human desire for excess is something we have experienced in the past, are experiencing now and will always experience in generations to come. It is also this very desire that drives progress because only in dreaming for things do we set the necessary goals to achieve them. The problem with the state of humanity in Anderson’s novel is that technologies have become so entwined with humanity that almost 73% of Americans are now technically cyborgs. But dumb ones: “Because of the feed, we’re raising a nation of idiots. Ignorant, self-centered idiots.” (113) These people are not dumb in the sense that they don’t know things, but “dumb” because they have become so complacent with their feeds that they are now too lazy to think while thinking they are perfect the way they are.
“I don’t know when they first had feeds. Like maybe, fifty or a hundred years ago. Before that, they had to use their hands and their eyes. Computers were all outside the body. They carried them around outside them, in their hands, like if you carried your lungs in a briefcase and opened it to breathe. (47)
It would certainly have been quite difficult for someone as complacent as Titus to comprehend a life devoid of his feed. But one thing that is certain in this novel is that remnants of individuality still exists, and is worth fighting for. Just before Titus and Violet kiss for the first time, she says to him: “You’re the only one of them that uses metaphor.” (63) It becomes very clear at this point that her attraction to him is his distinction from all of his friends – his ability to employ metaphor sets him apart – within him, she saw an ability to think outside of the norms as taught by one’s feed, therein lies a potential that Violet desires to cultivate. He hasn’t been fully corrupted by his feed, at least not yet.
When Violet tells Titus of her new project in the mall, and describes her task as follows:
“What I’m doing, what I’ve been doing over the feed for the last two days, is trying to create a customer profile that’s so screwed, no one can market to it. I’m not going to let them catalog me, I’m going to become invisible.” (98)
Have you ever looked at something online, say on Amazon or eBay or on one of the many websites available to shop, and find yourself gazing upon the very object you had considered buying the next time you clicked on your browser? This sort of target advertising has become such an integral part of our lives that Anderson’s rendering of this situation is completely familiar to us as readers. We might not have our own feeds, but we are certainly the victim of our own Google searches or web-browsing history. Little by little, corporations, like those depicted in Feed, have amassed detailed information on our personal preferences and are selling things to us online that are eerily similar to the ways in which Titus and his friends do their online shopping.
The loss of the English language is perhaps the less addressed, but equally pivotal problem examined in the novel. Anderson’s employs a Clueless-meets-A Clockwork Orange kind of language where his characters’ most common reaction to bad situations is “Oh shit!” And where they speak in sometimes confusing ways when referring to information related to, or in relation to their feeds. The simplicity of their language echo the simplicity of their minds, and it is with this in mind should we come to understand the statement made by Violet’s father in reference to H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. The Eloi race is a race so intelligent and so successful at ruling the world that they have degenerated from their prior human state, and have evolved to a state that can only be considered sub-human. Only in understanding this parallel do we truly understand Anderson’s message that while technologies possess all these undeniable benefits, if we are not too careful in maintaining our humanity, we will fall despite progress, further than anyone can ever imagine.