This week’s word is “Feed”
Something a little different for Word Wednesday today, a column that usually features bright bold non-fiction books. Today I have two fiction books, based on the same premise, with almost exactly the same titles. Books that were written almost twenty years apart; Feed by M. T. Anderson and The Feed by Nick Clarke Windo.
Nick Clark Windo’s, The Feed, is his debut novel and is published in the UK, on January 25th, 2018. It’s set after an apocalypse. M. T. Anderson’s Feed is aimed at a Young Adult audience. Nick Clark Windo’s is a little more brutal, and probably better suited for older readers.
What is the central premise of the books?
The premise of both books centers around the “feed”. In both cases, this is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, and Amazon, all rolled into one and given steroids. Then hard-wired into our brains. The Feed is not something you access through devices, it’s something that becomes part of you.
Both books then, examine the damage caused by instant access to information, opinion, friends’ thoughts, and, of course, shopping. Both books are an examination of the pitfalls of too much time spent watching your feed rather than living in the present. If you like Black Mirror, you’ll love both of these books.
As somebody who creates content on the internet for people to consume, with children who would love to do the same; children who would love to be on their devices far longer than I let them, the books make for sobering reading. The ready access to information, a source of so much good, is turned on its head. Skills and knowledge are forgotten. There’s no need to learn anything. Everything can be placed directly into your brain at the moment you need it. The concept of dumbing down is central to both novels. In M. T. Anderson’s Feed, it seems all the more remarkable because he wrote it when social media feeds were in their infancy.
The power of advertising.
“But the braggest thing about the feed, the thing that made it really big is that it knows everything that you want and hope for, sometimes before you even know what those things are… Everything we think and feel is taken in by the corporations… and they make a special profile that’s keyed just for you… all you have to do is want something and there’s a chance it will be yours.”
From M.T. Anderson’s Feed
Both books share a vision of “the feed” and its relationship to advertising. This Faustian pact we’ve clicked through without reading: that means we read stuff for free, in exchange for being bombarded with advertisements. Our implicit agreement that data can be collected about our preferences and purchasing habits.
In recent weeks, Facebook has changed its rules, making it harder for small concerns to get their pages seen without paying Facebook more money. This week, YouTube has changed its policy in a way that will hurt small creators. It would seem that bigger, more homogenous meat, makes better money when fed into the social media grinder.
The books take up the “race to the bottom” side-effect of large corporations controlling our media consumption. In both worlds, the feed advertises directly to its users’ brains. Being “on trend” becomes everything, with an endless cycle of “See, Buy, Be seen wearing.” In the future, Anderson and Windo predict, consumption will be everything. But which is the consumer? And to what does the title “Feed” correlate? The flow of consumerist information, or the people who access it?
“It’s all streamlining our personalities so we’re easier to sell to… They try to figure out who you are, and to make you conform to one of their types for easy marketing. It’s like a spiral: They keep making everything more basic so it will appeal to everyone. And gradually everyone gets used to everything being basic, so we get less and less varied as people, more simple. And it goes on and on.”
From M.T. Anderson’s Feed.
In Nick Clarke Windo’s book, civilization has fallen. We follow the post-apocalypse lives of Tom and Kate, and their daughter Bea. Bea was conceived before the fall but born afterward. We know that Tom’s family was instrumental in the setting up and running of the feed.
After a brief prologue, the novel opens 6 years after the fall. We see a fledgling community trying to rise from the ashes. When violence shatters the community, Tom and Kate are propelled on a voyage that will test everything they know about themselves and the world they live in. Their journey will lead them to discover why their technologically advanced world collapsed with such finality.
Why read The Feed by Nick Clarke Windo?
If you’re a fan of post-apocalypse fiction, this is definitely a book for you. The rendering of the world, post-fall, is particularly fine. There are pockets of civilization that eke out an existence using barely-remembered skills. Like all modern “end of days” novels there is a great deal of brutality, but Windo portrays this with subtlety. The novel’s violence is never gratuitous.
There are two particularly interesting elements to Windo’s construction of his feed. The first is the difficulty of remembering knowledge. Not just recall, but the physiological impact of having a hard-wired artificial memory system go down. In The Feed, trying to remember the past is painful and dangerous.
More interestingly, and the novel’s central mystery, is how did the fall occur? We know it started with the assassination of the US President, but what happened after that? If there was a coordinated attack, where did it come from and what did the assailants hope to achieve? The mystery is intriguing, and the reveal lives up to the expectations built up during the story.
I enjoyed The Fall. It is mostly a gentle apocalypse, reminiscent of Station Eleven, but it is not without its brutality. Sections of this novel are not for the faint of heart. There is a strong sense that civilization is teetering on the edge of total extinction. The Feed is an examination of our relationship with technology and over-reliance upon it. The narrative contains a neat switch, which turns the novel on its head. This gives The Feed a further dimension, taking the reader in an unexpected direction.
Overall, Nick Clark Windo’s The Feed is a fine addition to the post-apocalyptic cannon. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
M.T. Anderson’s novel has been around much longer than The Feed and has already stood the test of time. Eerily prescient, it is still as relevant today, maybe more so, than it was when it was first written.
It features a group of teenagers in a future America, each with embedded feed implants. It examines the nature of teen relationships, with one another, through their technology, and their relationship and reliance on that technology, for (among other things) information, commerce, and self-esteem.
At the center of the story are Titus and Violet. Violet is different from Titus’s other friends and he finds himself irresistibly drawn to her. What follows is something of a Romeo and Juliet for the connected generation.
Why read Feed?
On the face of it, the plot of Feed is slight. Instead, it’s a novel of concepts, ideas, and social commentary. I think it deserves to become a YA modern classic. Indeed, it could probably already be classed as one. I can’t really do justice to the complex relationship of Titus and Violet. It’s embedded in the DNA of the story; to say too much would give away the plot of the novel.
Feed acts as a warning to the pitfalls of social media. The world constructed by Anderson is not so far removed from ours. The events of the book are frighteningly plausible. Yet this is not a clarion call to Luddites. The book highlights many of the impressive and useful qualities of a connected world. Anderson is merely alerting us to the possibility that there may a cost to be paid for this constant flow of information.
It’s difficult for me to praise Feed highly enough. It’s thought-provoking Young Adult science fiction of the highest order. It is written in a future pseudo-dialect, which I know some people don’t enjoy, but this is very low key, and well worth pushing beyond. If you do, you’ll find a novel written in the past, about the future, that resonates deeply with the present.
This was my first M.T. Anderson novel, but it surely won’t be my last. Fortunately, he has a brand new novel Landscape With Invisible Hand that hit the shops last year in the U.S. and arrives in the UK next month.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of The Feed. My copy of Feed was hand delivered by a jolly fellow with a white beard and a red suit.