I recently read Feed by M.T. Anderson. Since I finished it, it has been stuck in my mind like a microchip. It’s prediction of the future is barely a prediction; rather, it’s more of a summary of the current state of existence followed by a gentle stretching into the future that is already here. The story is about a young and sympathetic teenager named Titus living in a world where everyone has a chip in their brain called a Feed. The book follows Titus as he navigates the sloppy world of teenage friendships and virgin romances, all intensely affected by his and his friends’ Feeds.
The Feed is, on one hand, a Google in your brain. You can look up words you don’t know in an instant, or, as the narrator of the book argues “Figure out which battles of the Civil War George Washington fought in”. That’s the kind of things you hear all the time in the book, along with people making fun of each other for using big words. All of it is written from the perspective of a teenager, and his voice is filled with the uncertainties of teenage language: “It’s like…um…well…I don’t know it just is.”
The Feed interacts with you in real-time. As you pass by a store you see advertisements for a sale on rugby shirts, and with just a simple thought you can buy them and have them sent to your house. It also allows you to chat privately with those around you, even while in a large group. It is, in essence, a constantly chattering commercial seated permanently in your brain. It never ceases; even at the most horrific moments of life it will try to sell you blue jeans.
Shopping technology that enhances the experience of able to gossip about your friends right in front of their faces necessitates that this book be a warning call to Young Adults. It reads The Giver or Fahrenheit 451, but for the modern age, and it deserves a place among these as a giant and essential book for Young Adults. And by the way, I think that because humans are living longer and longer every year, the Young Adults of the modern age include everyone 36 and under.
Needless to say, I loved the book. Although M.T. Anderson fills the book with hilarious tidbits (the teenage lingo, for example), everything is singed with sadness about what we have allowed ourselves to become. The Feed is only inches away from the bombardment of advertising that we all sludge through every day. Not to mention, technology is affecting all social relationships in new and unpredictable ways, even for grown-ups. I can’t stop thinking about The Feed.
Which is why I flipped out when I found this video from TED.com
That’s The Feed! Right there! But it’s not so terrifying. It’s almost beautiful. I wonder, however, about the scientists behind this and how they see the world. They have conceived and created this fascinating little piece of future, and it has such pontential to be a world-altering, progress slinging angel. But, do they not see the advertisers crouching on the sidelines, frothing at the mouth over this?
For instance, consider the moment where Pranav goes to the supermarket and picks up paper towels. As he has designed it, it would tell you how “economically responsible” the item was. But, would this really happen? Wouldn’t the Bounty corporation take over their image and force you to watch an advertisement where someone balances three plastic elephants on a Bounty paper towel…and they DON’T FALL THROUGH! Buy it!
I want the Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry world, but I’m afraid the M.T. Anderson’s world will eat it up and spit out the bones.
The other question I must ask: How long will that chunky machine we carry everywhere just be inserted inside our brains or bodies? How long until, instead of having words projected on a wall, you just see them on the wall. And what would that mean? I think we’ll find out, because at this point I think there’s no turning back.