M.T. Andersons’ Feed tells the tale of a futuristic version of America—one in which everyone has a feed programmed into their brain. The feed serves almost any function—it broadcasts music, allows people to chat with each other without speaking, gives people the capacity to share memories, plays television shows, and has advertisements that constantly berate whoever the feed belongs to. While most people in the story embrace the feed as a part of their lifestyle, Violet and her father attempt to resist it. In the end, their resistance ends up leading to Violet’s death, which begs the question—how possible is it to resist the advancement of technology in society, and to what degree does integrating technology into one’s life detract from one’s humanity?
Technology serves as an extension of human capacity, and it can be used to enhance either positive or negative aspects of human nature. Most notably in current times, and even more poignantly in Feed, technology enhances the human desire for instant gratification. As the feed tells Titus, “We have only to stretch out our hand and desire, and what we wish for settles like a kerchief in our palm” (149). While this ability could be put to a productive use if people found a way to use that technology to solve important world problems, Feed depicts largely negative manifestations of that power. Each family is able to choose exactly what they want their child to look like, exactly what weather they want around their house, and exactly when they want evening to fall. The culture fostered by using technology in this way is extremely self-centered and ignorant, as seen when Titus explains, “everyone can be super smart without ever working” (47). He claims that this is an improvement, but just because the information is available to them does not mean that they actually take the time to learn it. The feed presents them with the illusion that they know everything, but in reality they have misconceptions such as the thought that George Washington fought in the civil war (47).
Violet recognizes the need to resist the desire for instant gratification, and she fights against it by exercising an exaggerated amount of self-control and impeding the feed’s ability to market to her. Because she believes that “everything [is] better if you [delay] it,” she goes out of her way to deny herself instant gratification (143), and to deny the feed the satisfaction of understanding her consumer desires (98). In the end, however, that only results in her being deemed an unreliable investment, and she is unable to have her feed repaired. Since the feed is an integral part of the human brain, a malfunctioning feed also means a malfunctioning body, and eventual death. The culture around her is so immersed in using the feed for self-fulfilling commercial purposes that she is unable to successfully fight against it. This is the lesson that Violet’s father also learned early on—when he found that people with the feed would use the technology to chat about him in a way he could not hear without the feed. While their valiant acts of fighting against the individualistic society can make impressions upon people like Titus, to truly resist the feed it would be necessary for many more people to influence a systematic change in the way that people interact with the technology available to them.
Despite the ways in which people have chosen to use technology in Feed, the humanity of the people in the novel remains unscathed. The way people process the things around them has changed, as it has become harder for them to appreciate simplicity such as that depicted in the picture of the boat that Titus doesn’t understand (45), but despite this, there are still innately human qualities in everyone. People still drink Ginger Ale when they are sick (75), people still play basketball (52), there are still frat boys at parties (34), and kids still don’t want to hear how their parents conceived them (117). If they take the time, people still have the capacity to return to their pre-feed abilities to appreciate silence and personal contact. Titus appreciates how it feels to have someone “only looking at [him],” without the feed as a distraction (63), and how sitting in silence with Violet “wasn’t bad” (54). While being able to talk to each other through the feed makes actual conversations more rare, and the constant input they are receiving makes them less present in the conversations they do have, the feed did not make them unable to appreciate organic life apart from technology. It just made it more difficult for them to return to that state. Technology cannot alter what it means to be human, but it can cause people to forget to take the time to appreciate the simple joys of life—such as a surprise snowfall or the anticipation of discovering what their baby will look like when it is born.
Human beings have the ability to shape technology to fit whatever function they desire, but it is important to ensure that whatever function is chosen has the common good of humanity in mind. Once technology takes a turn towards gratifying selfish desires, as it has in Feed, it becomes very difficult for an individual, such as Violet or her father, to resist the systemic structure that is put in place. Human nature will always remain constant, but if it is used improperly, technology has the potential to distract people from important joys and values.