Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Feed" by M.T. Anderson

Summary: Titus and his friends live in a world that is constantly linked; each person's brain is connected to the "feed," a constantly-running system which molds and knows each person's consumer tastes.  The feed is not only a shopping tool--it runs all media (such as television shows), allows people to communicate (like texting or IM-ing), and is the instant source of information.  Titus is just like his friends, following current trends and consuming based on his feed, when he meets Violet, a young woman who sees the world differently.  Violet is interested in the world around her and the true nature of the feed.  Titus is intrigued by her, but he also is unsure if he is willing to turn his back on the life he is living.

Musings: Feed is an eerily prophetic look at the homogenizing and dumbing-down of people through high consumption of media.  In Feed's America, the constant connection and bombardment of messages gives little room for thought outside the presented norm.  The feed is constantly on and is inescapable, and it is this feeling of never being alone--of always being tied to the feed or to other people--that allows little room for deviance.  Feed was published in 2002, but it made me immediately think of a recent study that came out about the daily use of media among young people.  The study found that today adolescents between the ages of eight and eighteen spend nearly eight hours a day using "entertainment media."  That's up from about six and a half hours in 2004.  And, because most of that time involves using more than one medium at once, adolescents spend get almost eleven hours of "media content" in those eight hours (Kaiser Family Foundation).  Although plenty of time can be spent arguing how that time is spent and the positives and negatives of each, it's undeniable that today's youth are connected to technology and each other in a way that no other generation has been.  Feed presents a scary--but certainly not unbelievable--extension of what is already happening today.

Although I liked the concept of Anderon's Octavian Nothing series, I found the language and style prohibitively dense in a way that made me unable to connect with the characters.  However, in Feed I think Anderson's use of a distinct style enhanced the world and my understanding of the protagonist Titus. Titus' limited knowledge and vocabulary and simultaneous frustration comes across in his first person narration to the reader: "They were as gray as, I don't know.  They were just gray, okay?  The rain hit them" (135).  The style and tone reminded me a lot of the Specials' way of talking in Westerfeld's Uglies series, and, in fact, there are a lot of similarities (especially in the consumerist- and popularity-driven societies) between the two.

The "awakened to another way of thinking by a girl" motif in Feed echoed Fahrenheit 451, especially the emphasis on recognizing the beauty of things around you.  But I really liked Titus' and Violet's characterization.  Titus is impressed by Violet's way of thinking, but he's interested more because she's different than because he agrees with her arguments.  Violet wants to be "normal," but she's not willing to change what she really thinks.  Although I found the book heartbreaking, it stays true to these realistic characters.

I would have liked to hear more about the mysterious Coalition of Pity, which is mentioned a few times but then is dropped from the book.  Otherwise Feed's an excellent and unique part of the YA dystopian genre, especially as its protagonist is the one "happy" within the system, rather than the one trying to break loose of it.

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