As we continue to explore the interactions between technology and society, I can’t help but question the ultimate goal of the creation of such tools. Boredom alone could not possibly be the motivation that drives the creation of virtual universes, chat rooms, and artificial conversation with a computer (for example). Anderson provides one possible answer the question of the purpose of the creation of artificial intelligence and the constant integration of technology into the human life. Although technology could never replace the balanced ecosystem of the planet, it serves as a way for humans to cope with the acknowledgment of their ultimate fate.
In FEED, the use of technology, particularly the Feed, reflects the societal strategy for pursuing happiness. The dead ocean and dwindling population of trees and animals reflect the future for humans. As the natural world disintegrates around them, the Feed offers the characters a way to escape reality. The original anatomical structure and function of the human body and brain can never be replaced, but like an additional limb, the Feed is a tool for human to use for improved quality of life. Anderson contrasts the foreign, constant buzzing of information with familiar moments of human interactions and creativity to illustrate the degree to which the Feed removes a human from his natural state.
Within the first pages of the novel, unfamiliar terms and ideas immediately contrasts the lives of the characters with the life of the 21st century reader. Words such as “null,” “meg,” “unit,” “youch,” and “re:” create a new culture based on the influence of the Feed. Additionally, visits to the moon and Venus describe the advancements of technology and illustrate a seemingly limitless society, with the ability to defy the laws of gravity.
In between slang and feed terminology, Anderson slips a few moments of intense imagery of animals and uses metaphor to describe the world from Titus’ point of view. Titus describes Violet’s touch, “It felt so soft. Like something I’d never felt before. It felt like the neck of a swan in the wind” (p40). Poetic and thoughtful, his language reflects the ability for original, creative thought, unaffected by the Feed. Titus again uses animal metaphor to describe a sight, “It’s like a squid in love with the sky” (p62). Weather or not Titus has ever seen a live squid or swan, he has the ability and knowledge to relate to the natural world. Without the influence of the Feed, he describes a human experience in a way that could only be understood by another human. Though rare, his allusions to the wild life offer a glimpse of human originality, where the Feed is not present in his view of life.
As the entirety of the novel suggests that “the end” is approaching soon, Anderson keeps the essence of humanity close and reoccurring, keeping the tone from sinking into an apocalyptic depression. Woven through the discussion of societal tension and human deterioration are precious moments of young love and teenage angst that are present at any time period. In theses moment, the reader can relate to characters, root for them, and temporarily forget the inevitable impending doom that seems to cast a shadow on the entire novel. Titus and Violet’s puppy love serves as a distraction to the ultimate ending of the novel, and the end of the human existence.
“It was a filet mignon farm, all of it, and the tissue spread for miles around the paths where we were walking. It was these huge hedges of red all around us… They had these tubes, there were bringing the tissues blood, and we could see the blood running up and down… They had made part of if into a steak maze, for tourists, and we split up in the steak maze and tried to see who could get to the center first. We were big laughing and we’d run into each other and growl and back away. There were other tourists in the steak maze too, and they thought we were cute.” (p142)
Anderson presents quite a strange tone of heartwarming disgust: the playful, innocent flirtation between two young people in a sea of artificially grown beef. The beef that must be artificially gown because the cow either no longer exists or cannot support the gross human population and lifestyle. There is nothing natural about the generation of tissue in the farm. Ironically, the only thing that seems natural is the simple bliss achieved by Titus and Violet. Anderson satirically juxtaposes the natural and unnatural, and evokes sympathy while challenging the reader to pine for the characters’ innocence at a place of natural destruction.
The intimate essence of this scene lies in the fact they neither Titus nor Violet actively use the Feed during their time together in the maze. This is one of the rare occasions in the novel where they are physically active, playful, and fully present in the people and place in front of them. Here, the characters are happy without the help of the Feed; a glimpse of hope for the future or simply a sad reflection of the past that can never fully recover.
These examples simply highlight the moments that lack major influence of the Feed and are still humanly successful (happy). They illustrate the natural curiosity that is threatened by the availability of immediate and available information. This discussion raises further questions about the purpose behind creating artificial life and interactions. At a time when we are aware of our ultimate fate as a species, with or without distractions, can we ever be happy?