First Longer Blog Essay: Feed and the loss of humanity

M. T. Anderson imagines a world where technology literally becomes a part of the human being. The “feed” is interwoven with the brain, making it impossible for the human to live without it. If the feed malfunctions, you’re done for. Violet learns this the hard way when her feed is disrupted by a mysterious old man on the moon.  She begins to lose control of parts of her body for short periods of time until her entire body becomes paralyzed and shuts down.  This novel critiques the pervasiveness of technology, how it is becoming a part of everything we do—our speech, our work, school, shopping, and recreation. It conjectures what could happen to humanity if technology were to become one with our bodies and become a part of our every-day, minute-by-minute lives.  A guiding question throughout Feed could be how does the feed demand a reconceptualization of what it means to be human? Indeed, personal communication, the freedom to think for one’s self, and the ability to love and have meaningful relationships—all essential parts of what make us human—are greatly diminished or even stripped away by the feed.

From the very beginning of the novel, we find that speech is losing its place in human communication.  Everyone uses a chat function on the feed to communicate with one another. The little speech we do read is limited; there are few words per sentence, consisting of many familiar uses of “dude” and “unit.”  The doctor that treats Titus and his friends on the moon cannot even remember medical terminology. He says, “Could we like get a thingie, a reading on his limbic activity?” (69). Humans are so unused to speaking without the aid of the feed that they lose vocabulary skills. Titus’ dad only responds to Titus’ story of what happened on the moon with “’Yeah,’ ‘Yeah,’ ‘Yeah,’ ‘Oh yeah,’ ‘Yeah,’ ‘Shit,’ ‘Yeah’” (56).  Whole rooms at parties could be silent due to everyone chatting and listening to music on their feeds. Titus tells us as he and Violet walk into a party, “Someone was being a DJ and broadcasting tracks on the feed, so we tuned in, because otherwise you just hear the shuffling while people are moving around with no music on the floor” (191).  Violet and her father seem to be the only humans who still value spoken word. Violet admires Titus’ ability to speak in metaphor, a seemingly lost art in this futuristic culture. She asks him to “Talk to [her]. In the air” to which Titus reveals to the reader “I hate these kinds of conversations” (169).  It is clear that talking out loud requires more effort, but Violet clings to the old way of speaking.  At the end of the book when Violet is dying, Titus chooses “not to listen to the noise on the feed” and to speak to Violet out loud. He recognizes the importance of speech, and chooses to spend Violet’s last moments telling her stories out loud (296).

The feed is constantly streaming information into humans.  They see advertisements, TV shows, commercials, and news casts constantly and sometimes simultaneously.  The pervasiveness of these media messages even shows through the text.  Throughout the novel, we see flashes of what Titus sees through his feed—many of which give us a window into the dilapidated condition of the United States. One could argue that these messages are so invasive that humans lose the ability to think for themselves. This is evident by the fact that no one questions the lesions infecting everyone.  The United States puts out a message trying to convince people that the lesions are not its fault:

It is our duty as Americans, and as a nation dedicated to freedom and free commerce, to stand behind our fellow Americans and not cast . . . things at them.  Stones, for example.  The first stone.  By this I mean that we shouldn’t think that there are any truth to the rumors that the lesions are the result of any activity of American industry.  Of course they are not the result of anything American industry has done. . . America is the nation of freedom, and that freedom, my friends, freedom does not lesions make. (85)

This message from the government tries to take people’s attention off of the lesions and remind them that it is freedom and commerce that they should be focusing on.  People are so wrapped up in buying more stuff that they are completely unfazed by the gaping wounds in their skin. This commerce culture is also evident by the many personalized advertisements and virtual shopping partners with which the feed continually bombards its users. Violet attempts to “resist the feed” by showing interest in random products. She believes that the feed makes people “less and less varied as people, more simple” and hopes to become “invisible” to the feed (97).  She hopes to be able to think for herself and not be constantly swayed by the feed.

The feed also inhibits people’s ability to love and have meaningful relationships. The structure of the family is strangely altered by the need for a conceptionarium. Because of “ambient radiation,” people could no longer have babies naturally (225).  Parents would have to go to a conceptionarium where they grew infants in test tubes. Not only to humans lose the ability to conceive and carry children, their children no longer have pure genetic ties to their parents. These babies could also be genetically altered to contain DNA from various sources. Titus’ mother tells him that he has the “hairline of DelGlacey Murdoch,” a big actor (116).  She continues, “We thought he was like the most beautiful man we’d ever seen in our lives” (116).  Link’s parents included Abraham Lincoln’s DNA from “the bloodstains found on [Mary] Todd Lincoln’s opera cloak” into his embryo (186). Strained familial relationships are only confirmed by Titus’ refusal to call his brother by his real name and always referring to him as “Smell Factor.” Expressing romantic love is also difficult for those tied to the feed. In the end of the novel, instead of simply telling Violet that he loves her, Titus has to frame his thoughts in the form of a movie trailer—something he was probably all too familiar with as a result to being constantly connected to the feed.

M. T. Anderson creates a world in which the most basic, most essential parts of humanity are stripped away by the constant, biologically interwoven feed. The ability to speak out loud is all but lost, evident by the short sentence structures, lack of robust vocabulary, and the extreme effort it takes to carry on a conversation without the feed. People can no longer think for themselves.  Gaping lesions plague the general public, but the feed is sure to focus people’s attention on the freedom and consumerism that America offers. Human relationships deteriorate due to the inability for humans to conceive and birth children on their own or express love in original, meaningful ways.  Violet’s determination and ultimate failure to “resist the feed” is a critique on the ways that technology is beginning to eliminate the need for basic human interactions in our world. Anderson shows us what could happen if we become one with the technology around us, and it is a scary future—one we should avoid at all costs.

One thought on “First Longer Blog Essay: Feed and the loss of humanity”

  1. I think the feed already exists in society in a way. For example, I notice that most people are glued to their cell phones on the bus, people rarely speak out loud to each other. And with the invention of Google Glass, we are getting even closer to the feed. Nowadays I think that most people like technology too much, and even if there were serious negative effects, I think that a good number of people will make sacrifices just to stay in their electronic fantasies.

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