Long Blog Post 1: The effects of technology on human autonomy, ethics, and authenticity

In just the mere twenty-one years that I’ve been alive, technologies have advanced tremendously, and as a result, society has transformed to rely on these advancements. Young people’s engagement with this media culture of television ads, marketing campaigns, texting, emailing, facebooking, etc. is relatively a new phenomenon, and these innovations threaten the integrity of our lives. M.T. Anderson’s novel positions the reader in an even more technology-dependent world, delving into the potentiality of technology in the future, where young people are implanted with “the feed,” a computer chip which connects them with a global network of images, audio messages, and text-based communication. As technology advances, and we are provided with easy-to use products that allow us to access information easily, how are we, as humans, as learners and thinkers, affected? In the future world of Feed, FeedTech Corp is a powerful corporation, which acts as a conduit for advertisements and attainment of information, supplying children with “the feed”. Through data mining, people’s thoughts and emotions are monitored and studied in order to engineer desires for products and experiences that accord with consumers’ profiles.

So, how does technology affect our ability to make autonomous and ethical decisions, as well as authentic thought? The centrality of The Feed questions our human agency and ethics in a world where individuals are bombarded with information about products and services. The constant attack of advertisement warrants the loss of individuality, through conformity to the group consensus. The novel shows the juxtaposition between the characters of Titus and Violet; Titus indulges in the patterns of The Feed, and lives a life focused completely on vacuous consumerist pleasures, whereas Violet tries her hardest to resist The Feed, and seeks to disrupt it by pretending to have an interest in arbitrary products so that the FeedTech Customer Assistance component of the corporation is unable to develop a reliable consumer profile for her. Violet’s resistance to the norm of the effectuation of The Feed is due to the way in which she was brought up. Her parents resisted the idea of implantation, so that her feed is less securely established than those of her friends. It is by the resistance to The Feed that allows Violet more autonomy and ability to make ethical decisions. She states plainly, “Because of the feed, we’re raising a nation of idiots. Ignorant, self- centered idiots.” (112) For example, a scenario that particularly exposed the juxtaposition between Titus and Violet was when the Coca-Cola company had announced a promotion where “if you talked about the great taste of Coca-Cola to your friends like a thousand times, you got a free six-pack of it” (158), and so the friends agreed, and Titus said he was, to “rip off the corporations, which we all thought was a funny idea” (158) by talking incessantly about Coke. His use of “we” suggests an element of groupthink, acting according to the consensus, rather than individually. However, on the contrary, Violet takes a different action, but not before truly thinking over the information presented before her.  Violet bravely and assertively disrupts the group’s effort for free Coke by reflecting on the processes whereby individuals are introduced as subjects. She says, “Sometimes I try to think back to the first time I ever had Coke… If something’s an acquired taste, like, how do you start to acquire it? For that matter, who gave me Coke the first time? My father? Who would hand a kid a Coke and think, ‘Her first one. I’m so proud.’ How do we even start?” (164) Thus, Violet’s resistance to the norms of The Feed doesn’t affect her autonomy the way it does Titus. He’s quick to act upon these advertisements of The Feed, whereas Violet carefully chooses her own actions, despite the information forced in front of her. Even after proposition of a different action, the boys are still greatly affected by the advertisement. “The boys conclude that “all this talking about the great taste of Coke” has made them thirsty, so they decide to go out and buy some.” (162)

By loss of authority, society loses its ability to take moral and legal responsibility. For example, as Violet’s Feed begins to fail, Titus received messages from her about her circumstance, but decides to ignore them, stating that he didn’t receive them, in part because he didn’t want to stray from the majority. When the “software/wetware interface” (170) of her feed breaks down, which results in physical and mental failure, FeedTech Corp refuses to repair it on the grounds that she is not a committed consumer, and by the end of the novel she is comatose and near death. It’s not until it’s too late, that he speaks with a glimmer of authenticity. “I cried, sitting by her bed, and I told her the story of us. “It’s about the feed,” I said.  “It’s about this meg normal guy, who doesn’t think about anything until one wacky day, when he meets a dissident with a heart of gold.”(296) However, despite this seemingly awakened moment of ethical capability, there’s a sense of high-saturated media language, taking their interactions and painting a picture of perfect romance; something their relationship is definitely not.

Not only does excessive invasion of information create the loss of autonomy and ability to make ethical decisions, but it also impedes the process and ability to create authentic thought. The novel questions the sense of agency we have as technologies advance, and the influx of information doesn’t necessarily make us smarter. It actually makes us dumber, for we don’t need to acquire and store information, for it’s placed in front of us for us, at all times. This is shown when Titus wakes up in the hospital with a broken Feed. Rather than having a moment of clarity and catharsis, he declares, “our heads felt real empty.” (46) From this pivotal point moving forward, we as readers are threatened with what too much technology can do to the integrity of our motives, and the decisions we act on, and the authentic thought we are able to generate. When the feed is broken, their minds felt empty. This therefore suggests that the increase in information will implement a dependence on readily accessible information, rather than acquiring information through learning.

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