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Feed by M.T. Anderson

Imagine that when you are born, your brain is implanted with a chip that allows you to access a vast computer network called the Feed.  The Feed allows you to quickly download any information you desire, communicate telepathically with your linked friends, and view a constant stream of advertisements that are tailored to your personality and consumer habits.  This is the world that M.T. Anderson has created in his novel Feed.

The book’s main character is Titus, a typical teenage boy who is mostly interested in his new upcar and shopping on his Feed.  He and his friends go to the Moon for spring break, where he meets Violet.  Shortly afterward, a man protesting the Feed hacks into the teens’ brains, and they wake up in the hospital, panicked because their Feeds are disconnected.  After being brought back online, Titus and Violet return to Earth and begin a relationship.

Violet is different from other teenagers.  Because her Feed was implanted when she was a child, not at birth, she remembers a time before the Feed and recognizes the problems the Feed has caused.  She tells Titus, “No one with feeds thinks about it…When you have the feed all your life, you’re brought up to not think about things…Because of the feed, we’re raising a nation of idiots.  Ignorant, self-centered idiots.”  She decides to rebel against the Feed by tampering with her consumer profile, trying to create one “that’s so screwed, no one can market to it.  I’m not going to let them catalog me.  I’m going to become invisible.”

Violet’s plan backfires after her Feed starts to malfunction.  She starts losing memories and has problems moving her body.  Since she has manipulated her Feed, it cannot be repaired by FeedTech because based on her purchasing history, she is not a reliable investment.  Titus, who has never recognized these social problems or been exposed to the downside of the Feed, struggles to reconcile Violet’s perspective with a system that has always fulfilled him with the latest technology and instant gratification.  Will he learn anything from this newfound knowledge as he watches Violet struggle to survive?

With Feed, M.T. Anderson has conceived a frightening dystopian future plagued by crime, disaster, and political unrest.  The environment has been destroyed–forests have been replaced with air factories, and trademarked artifical clouds have replaced natural ones.  The powerless government has been replaced by omnipotent companies that not only run the schools, but are capable of monitoring and altering thoughts through the Feed.  In fact, it seems that humans are incapable of critical thinking or independent opinion.  No one questions why it has become fashionable to have diseased lesions covering the body or how an industrial accident can cover a village with black sludge and leave hundreds dead.  Perhaps the scariest part is that no one besides Violet recognizes what is going on.  She tells Titus, “The only thing worse than the thought it may all come tumbling down is the thought that we may go on like this forever.”

The themes the book explores, such as the power of corporations, consumerism, and the pervasiveness of technology and human reliance on it, are entirely relevant to American culture.  Some might argue that this fictional world reflects aspects of the 21st century real one we live in.

Feed is the 2011 One Great Read selection. Click here for information on programs and activities for this year’s selection.

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