Does the Feed inherently increase dependence upon technology while decreasing intelligence, or is there a scenario when feed-like technology could make people more intelligent?
In M.T. Anderson’s novel Feed, characters are implanted with a “feed” that projects advertising and information to their minds, eliminating much of the need to learn. Consequently, in this scenario, characters become seemingly less intelligent and more dependent upon the feed embedded in their minds. It is the advertising projected through the technology, however, not the technology itself that poses the greatest threat to the characters’ minds. The technology, if used for other purposes, is neutral, simply enhancing the intelligence or naiveté of the user. In short, the feed technology, or computer technology in general, magnifies the user’s inherent brilliance, producing a more powerful good or evil than the user would be able to attain solely using his or her own power.
In Feed, many characters have the feed made a permanent part of their person, connecting with the flood of advertising that it provides at all times of their waking and sleeping hours. The corporations who provide the feed content, have used the technology to hold captive an audience, ensuring that they will have the final say in what people buy, what people know, and how people act. Because people in Feed have become so reliant upon the technology, even the supposedly most intelligent among them have lost some of their ability to know and think for themselves. For example, when a doctor is examining Titus and his friends before releasing them from the hospital, the doctor remarks to the nurses, “Okay. Could we like get a thingy, a reading on his limbic activity?” (page 69) When the doctor calls the limbic activity reading “a thingy,” it appears as though he was waiting for his feed to provide him with instructions and names for the task he was performing. Although the doctor is executing the role the reader would expect, the feed has obviously made him less intelligent, forcing him to rely on words and instructions that the feed provides him and reducing the skill needed to work successfully in his occupation.
The users of the feed believe that the feed has made them more intelligent by increasing their access to information. Titus explains why he believes the feed has made people smarter, saying, “That’s one of the great things about the feed – that you can be supersmart without ever working. Everyone is supersmart now. You can look up things automatic, like science and history, like if you want to know which battles of the Civil War George Washington fought in and shit.” (page 47) Although Titus claims that the feed can provide educational information, rarely if ever does a character use it for educational purposes in the novel, instead it is used for advertising and more advertising, billed as entertainment. Titus also claims “everyone is supersmart.” This statement implies that people are “supersmart” because they all have easy access to information. Readily available information, however, is not a measure of intelligence, although it can be a significant advantage for learning and for the development of ideas. Intelligence is perhaps more easily measured by the way that each person’s mind interprets, comprehends, and utilizes the information available to him or her. This confusion of intelligence with information availability is a concept that is central to understanding the ways in which technology like the feed is misused in Feed, but could be a powerful tool under different circumstances.
If one were to imagine feed-like technology under different circumstances, the impact it could have might look radically different from the effect it has in M. T. Anderson’s novel. If, for instance, the feed technology were presented to users in the same format as the feed, but with no male-intent in mind, simply as a more neutral technology (much like an implanted version of the internet,) the technology could be seen as useful and valuable for productivity in today’s world. Although it would not automatically make each user “supersmart,” it would grant users the ability to complete more mundane tasks in less time, and it could aid users in the completion of more complicated undertakings. Although the technology would undoubtedly produce its fair share of harms to our society, it would certainly also produce progress and enhance quality of life for millions of people.
M. T. Anderson’s novel, Feed speaks to the dangers of corporations and technology in our society, demonstrating and predicting the ways in which the unaware are and will be influenced by advertising in their daily lives. The concepts presented in Feed, however, demonstrate the magnification effect that technology has upon the intentions its producers and users. With the right purposes, the feed could have been utilized as a productive addition to the wide range of tools available to enhance peoples’ everyday lives. Though the feed would not have the ability to make people more intelligent, it would provide a platform from which they could use their intelligence to create value for themselves and those around them.