Feed (Anderson novel)
|Feed by M.T. Anderson|
Cover to Feed
|Author(s)||Matthew Tobin Anderson|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Feed (2002) is a dystopian novel of the cyberpunk genre by M. T. (Matthew Tobin) Anderson, that focuses on issues such as corporate power, consumerism, information technology, and data mining in society, occasionally from a sardonic perspective. The novel depicts humanity's descent into a society that revolves entirely around advertising and corporate gain from the perspective of an American teenager and his friends.
The novel portrays a future in which people use the "feednet": a computer network (apparently an advanced form of the Internet) to which the brains of American citizens are directly connected by means of an implanted device called a "feed." About 73% of Americans have a feed set into their brain, usually at birth to minimize complications. Privacy has become non-existent as corporations are now free to monitor and often sway the decision-making thoughts of citizens. Feeds frequently interrupt normal thought processes, directing the user's attention to messaged advertising. The corporations and conglomerates responsible for the feed participate in data mining by monitoring the purchases and interests of those with the feed, using this information to fit individuals into consumer profiles based on users' preference patterns. The corporations determine human value by analyzing the consistencies (or lack thereof) in their consumer habits.
Those connected to the feednet can "m-chat" one another (a form of evolved, non-written instant messaging) on closed channels, effectively creating a form of telepathy. In addition, the feed chip is implanted at such an early age that it actually takes over the running of many brain functions as the child matures, becoming intertwined with its user's biology. As a result, certain sites on the feednet have psychological effects on users, causing them to go "in mal," meaning they can deliberately cause their feed chips to malfunction, causing physical and mental sensations similar to the pleasurable or thrilling effects of some intoxicating drugs.
The natural environment is also significantly damaged. Atmospheric conditions no longer allow the natural formation of clouds, instead there are trademarked Clouds™ implying artificial replications. The bodies of water are acidic and polluted. Sexual reproduction is no longer possible. As a result, all women undergo in-vitro fertilization and have their children custom tailored.
The corporations responsible for the Feed have an immense power in this future America. They run the school system, which is now known as School™. Throughout the book, they appear to hold the true power in America, leaving the president virtually helpless as the Global Alliance, a coalition of other countries, threatens to go to war with them.
While spending Spring Break on the moon, Titus and his thrill-seeking friends meet Violet Durn, who is totally unlike any of them. While at a club, a man from an anti-feed organization hacks their feeds. When they wake up in a hospital, their feeds are unavailable: partially deactivated while under repair. Mostly, this is the teenagers' first experience of life without the influence of the feed. During their recovery, Violet and Titus begin a romantic relationship. Eventually, their feeds are repaired and they return to Earth. However, Violet's feed is not totally fixed.
One day, Violet reveals her plan of resisting the feed to Titus. She plans to show interest in a wide and random assortment of products to prevent the corporations that control her feed from developing a reliable consumer profile. The two go to the mall and create wild consumer profiles. Later, Violet realizes that someone, most likely the Coalition of Pity, has been accessing her personal information through her dreams. She calls FeedTech customer service, but receives no help. Later, Violet tells Titus that her feed is severely malfunctioning, and she may die. Due to her deteriorating feed, various parts of Violet's body are shutting down. Throughout the novel, there is also a presence of lesions appearing on the characters' bodies. At first it is something they hide, but eventually the lesions turn into a trend. At School™, Titus notices that Calista has a large artificial lesion cut onto her neck. At a party, Quendy shows up with small artificial lesions over most of her body. Violet is disgusted and determines that everyone has become the feed. After this, she collapses and is taken to the hospital.
As a side effect of the malfunction, Violet loses memories of the year before she got the feed installed. To avoid losing more memories, she makes large records of things she can remember. She sends them to Titus, but he deletes them. Violet's body parts continue shutting down. She and her father cannot afford repairs, so they petition FeedTech for assistance.
He is unaware of the environmental disaster that happened that morning in Mexico. Some sort of toxic waste has engulfed a number of villages. The Global Alliance is prepared to go to war with the United States. Titus drives to Violet's house. He falls asleep shortly after arriving . While he sleeps, Violet shares her bad news with Titus in the form of a dream: FeedTech has decided not to help Violet because of her strange customer profile. This is caused by her resistance of the feed. That weekend, Violet comes to Titus' house to ask him to go to the mountains. He is reluctant at first, but ultimately agrees. They begin fighting and break up. On the way home, Violet's arm stops working and when she arrives home her leg fails. Titus drives away. The next day, Violet apologizes to Titus via feed, but Titus does not answer.Titus receives a message from Violet's father saying that Violet wanted Titus to know when it was "all over." He informs him that the time has come. Titus goes to Violet's house, where she lies in a coma. Her father blames Titus and shows him memories of parts of her body and brain shutting down, the pain she experienced. He then tells Titus to be with the Eloi. Titus asks what that means, but Mr. Durn refuses to answer, telling him to look it up. They fight, and Titus goes home. In an act of grief, he sits on his floor naked and orders the same pair of jeans continuously until he is entirely out of credit.
Two days later, Titus goes to visit Violet again. He tells her any stories he can find in the information available through his feed. Finally, he tells her the story of their relationship in the form of a movie trailer. The book ends with Violet dying and the feed saying "Everything Must Go."
The narrator and protagonist. Titus is the teenage son of an upper-middle-class family. For the most part, he is content with his consumerist lifestyle. When he meets Violet, Titus begins to help her "resist the feed", but ultimately abandons this project as he gives into peer pressure and the alluring advertisements. Titus was genetically designed to look like Delglacey Murdoch, a two-star actor.
- Violet Durn
Violet is Titus's girlfriend throughout the majority of the novel. She was raised by her eccentric father, and was home schooled. Violet did not get a feed until she was seven, unlike Titus and his friends whose feeds were implanted when they were infants. Violet views the feed negatively, different from Titus and his friends. She also comes from a lower-middle-class background.
- Lincoln "Link" Arwaker
Link is one of Titus's friends. He is described as being very tall and physically unsightly. His family is also depicted as much wealthier than Titus's family. Link is a clone of Abraham Lincoln and lives in a gated community. Calista and Quendy compete for his attention throughout the book.
Another of Titus' friends, Marty is described as being good at any game. He is loud and obnoxious at times. At the end of the novel, Marty purchases the "Nike speech tattoo," causing him to insert the word "Nike" into all of his sentences.
Calista is Link's girlfriend throughout most of the novel. She is the ring leader of the group of girls and was the first to get "cosmetic" lesions. Confrontational and outspoken, she instigates a major fight she and the other characters have with Violet.
Loga and Titus have past a romance. By the start of the book, the relationship has ended, but they are still friends. Loga is the only one of Titus' circle of friends who is not hacked at the Rumble Spot.
Quendy is a replica of Calista. She tends to be jealous and ever-competing with Calista for attention from Link and the group. After Calista has lesions cut into the back of her neck, Quendy takes the trend to the next level and has lesions cut all over her body in an act of competition. At the end of the novel, Titus and Quendy are dating.
- Titus's dad (Steve)
Steve is depicted as obsessed with both consumerist desires and status. He works for a corporation, somewhere in the realm of banking, and buys Titus an upcar. Towards the finish of the novel, it is exposed that Steve is possibly having an affair with a woman he works with based on a video from his business trip.
- Titus's mom
Titus mother works in the an area of Design. Titus expresses a lack of knowledge towards what either of his parents do for a living.
- Titus's kid brother ("Smell Factor")
His real name is never given, and he is referred to by Titus exclusively as "Smell Factor" throughout the story. Often Smell Factor is entranced by his feed. Having no idea of what is going on around him, he shouts out random phrases with no relevance to any given situation.
- Violet's dad
Along with Violet, her father also has a different kind of feed, referred to as "Feedpack". His feed is much different in that it is a detached backpack with virtual glasses. Her father is also a college professor who uses words most of the characters are unfamiliar with and often frustrates those trying to communicate with him. He teaches programming languages in a historical context. Violet's father is not as wealthy as Titus' parents. Although he was able to afford to send Violet to the moon, he was unable to afford the cost of visiting her when her feed was hacked.
M.T. Anderson writes the dystopian novel using heavy satire of consumerism and corporate America. He presents the futuristic downfall of America clearly in capturing the deterioration of language and thought through the voice of Titus. As the readers are often denied detailed description of the main characters, Anderson creates a sense of apathy and hopelessness in the character's thoughts and actions.
Anderson presents the novel in a first-person narrative through the perspective of Titus. Significant to Anderson's narrative agenda, Titus is often presented as an unlikeable and unpredictable character. The reader is positioned to feel as though they can not rely on Titus's view of the world, as it is often skewed by media, friends, family, and temporarily—Violet. Titus's perspective also plays an important role in explaining the conditions of society—he speaks in the contemporary vernacular, expresses apathy towards the political events, and detests learning anything beyond what is required of him in School™.
Another characteristic of Anderson's writing in Feed is his ability to create authentic adolescent voices. Through this sometimes humorous technique, Anderson critiques the negative effects of a loss of independent thought in terms of the character's deteriorating morality.
In addition, the story's narrative interrupts the text with commercials for consumer products, Feedcasts, pop songs, and news snippets. The constant media/consumerist presence positions readers to analyze how adolescents are exposed to consumerism. Eventually, Anderson alludes to America being fired upon with nuclear weapons by the Global Alliance for its industrial crimes. This element lends to the apathetic characterization of the teens in the novel as well as causes the reader to question the moral complexities to understanding a consumerist, globalized world.
Even with the feed, the vocabularies present in the novel are minimal and full of futuristic slang. Anderson's use of language mirrors the slang of today's "youth culture," and familiarizes the reader with the likeness between the characters mode of communicating and present state of communication of the reader. The degradation of language and heavy use of slang is not only a matter of youth, but also present in the speech of Titus's parents. The novel offers comment on the language use of adults and proves, through examination of Titus's parents, that the adults possess an immature world view.
Throughout the novel, Anderson emphasizes his created slang and adolescent vocabulary specific to the society in Feed. This extreme emphasis on the nature of the teens' language use corresponds with the theme of the dangers of overpowering consumerism. Even the word choice that characterizes the slang used in the novel carries undertones of advertisements, purchases, and corporation power.
Glossary of Feed terminology 
- banquet: when preceded by a noun referring to an idea or feeling, used particularly to express an abundance of that idea or feeling. For example: a shame banquet, dump banquet, or guilt banquet.
- big: (as an adverb) "very" or "very much"; (as an adjective) "fun."
- bonesprocket: a killjoy.
- boyf and girlf: literally, "boyfriend" and "girlfriend."
- brag: awesome, amazing, or "cool."
- chat: see m-chatting (a sub-bullet under feed).
- Clouds™: clouds (apparently now owned or produced entirely by corporations).
- conceptionarium: a place where children are designed and developed (outside of women's bodies) from embryos into babies.
- da da da: analogous to "blah blah blah."
- feed: a device implanted in the brains of most individuals, at least in the United States—which is fused with their biological functions—instantly giving them the ability: to mentally access vast digital knowledge databases (called "sites"); to experience shareable virtual-reality phenomena (including entertainment programs, music, and even others' memories); to continually interact with corporations in a personal preference-based way (while constantly barraged by advertisements); and to communicate telepathically with others who have feeds
- banner: any audio-visual advertisement experienced in the mind of a person with a feed. They may even appear during sleep while the individual is dreaming.
- feednet: the system of interconnected networks accessed by a person's feed.
- m-chatting or, simply, chatting: a feature of the feed that allows users to send other users complex linguistic thoughts and feelings in one's mind alone; thus, a form of completely non-behavioral and nonverbal communication. (Throughout the book, m-chatting is represented using italics, as opposed to verbal dialogue which uses quotation marks.)
- malfunction: a state in which one's feed is temporarily destabilized, often causing disorienting feelings and a euphoric high (similar to being intoxicated). For entertainment purposes and an emotional thrill, many people with a feed voluntarily go to sites on the feednet that induce malfunction. To malfunction is also known throughout the novel by many other slang terms; for example: to be/go in mal, to be raked, to be jazzed, to fugue, going fugue, getting scrambled, and doing the quivers
- freestyle: used as a noun or adverb to refer to "natural childbirth," or childbirth that does not involve the use of assisted reproductive technology. This type of childbirth is nearly non-existent in the novel's setting.
- junktube: a household tube that transports waste to an incinerator; an invention that has apparently succeeded the waste container.
- limp: "uncool" or unexciting.
- meg: an all-purpose intensifier meaning (as an adverb) "very" and (as an adjective) "awesome/amazing" or "huge/substantial." Presumably an adaptation of the real-world English slang term mega.
- No wrong: a figure of speech meaning "Don't worry" or "No worries."
- null: boring, bored, or uninterested.
- "re: (someone or something)": literally, "about (someone or something)." For example, "Is this re: Violet?" means "Is this about Violet?"
- School™: the educational institution that has replaced state schooling; now privatized by corporations that teach students how to be better consumers using mostly holographic teachers.
- skeeze: used as a noun or verb to mean "flirt."
- skip: happy, pleased, or satisfied.
- the spit: (often, the big spit): a popular fashion or trend.
- squeam: squeamish.
- squelch: (adjective) sullied, messy or dirty; (verb) to sully or to get dirty.
- to be with: (intransitive verb) to be ready and willing to participate.
- to do (something) slalom: to weave between obstacles in a zigzag pattern.
- unit: a word similar to the slang use of "man" or "guy," often used as a friendly title to address individual persons, the way teens in real life address their friends as dude, or as an interjection also the way real-life teens use the word "dude." An occasional female variation is unette. (Refers to the corporation perspective of the population as mere pawns in their capitalist agenda.)
- upcar: a car that flies, especially using tubes (rather than roads) and having an autopilot feature. The original vehicle known as the car is referred to in the novel by the retronym downcar.
- What's doing?: a phrase meaning "What's happening?" both literally and as an idiomatic colloquialism or greeting.
- youch: physically attractive; "hot" or "sexy."
- ?: the question mark has much broader usage as a punctuation mark in the writing of the novel's fictional universe than in ours. In addition to a question, the symbol "?" implies rhetorical disbelief, doubt, guessing, or an expression of the speaker's wondering whether the listener understands him or her.
Anderson depicts the failing futuristic society as an outcome of constant consumerist influence through his character dialogue, thought, and description of their surrounding environment. His comment on the disintegration of the natural environment aligns with the disposable representation of consumerist desire. The environmental state is presented as the fault of consumerism, as it leads to the character's lack of political awareness. Anderson shows the characters' complete obliviousness to the dangers of trademarked clouds, meat walls, and toxic oceans, as a result of their feed. The deteriorating environment exemplifies the characters dependence on consumerism for their sense of identity.
As the novel progresses, the illusion of consumer gratification is represented directly through the girls' near hourly trips to the bathroom to keep with the hair style and fashion trends. The girls' identity is absent without their ability to adhere to trends and current styles, furthering Anderson's point of dehumanization through a consumerist society. Also highlighted is Anderson's display of a nagging presence of advertisements and propaganda, endlessly directing the characters towards their next purchase.
Titus and his friends receive consumerist influence from constant ad flows through their feeds as well as their buyer's education from School™. The feed itself is considered a tool for education, but it is controlled by major corporations with the intent of creating consumer profiles. In this sense, it is simply another outlet for the consumerist narrative of the novel. Most evident of the feed's anti-education objective is Titus's apparent lack of skills in reading, writing, and his sparse vocabulary. This reinforces the idea that critical thinking is not a necessity in the interest of the corporations.
Throughout the novel, Anderson presents the concept of authority through the consumer demands of the feed's ads, as well as through influence of Titus's peers. Where Violet combats the pressures from friends, Titus's character is presented as unwilling to veer from the decided "norm." Anderson describes Titus as apathetic in regards to the feed's commands because he sees no point in fighting the feed's powerful force. The feed knows and decides everything for Titus, so his rebellion is minimal. In conjunction with abiding by the feed, Titus also gives into the demands of his friends. More than he is concerned with independent thought, Titus wants to be "cool" and live within the norms his friends and society have formed.
In terms of resistance, Violet is the main focus. Her attempts to disobey the commands of the feed by creating a sporadic consumer profile proves unsuccessful. While she has created a profile the corporations cannot manipulate, it also leads to her demise as it prevents Feedtech from aiding in her feed repairs. Anderson emphasizes the futility in rebelling against the consumer authority.
- Winner 2003 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction
- Winner 2003 Golden Duck Awards Hal Clement Award for Young Adults
- Nominee 2005–2006 Green Mountain Book Award
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