Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Feed by M.T. Anderson envisions the world through Google's glasses

Image from Google for the NYT
Feed was published ten years ago as fiction (for teens and adults), but the chilling future that M.T. Anderson predicted is now our near present. Google is developing eyeglasses to screen the internet…constantly. A contact lens version is in development, and Apple is working on wearable computers. Is this good innovation or a futuristic nightmare?

In Feed everyone, except the poor, has a computer chip embedded in the brain so that a live internet feed is constantly visible. The eyeball becomes the new computer screen. Pop-up banners, custom-tailored to the individual, encourage shopping. Memories can be shared like YouTube videos. Chatting is as easy as thinking, assuming anyone can think with all that distraction.

Titus, the teenaged boy narrator, explains:

“The braggest thing about the feed, the thing that made it really big, is that it knows everything you want and hope for, sometimes before you even know what those things are. It can tell you how to get them, and help you make buying decisions that are hard. Everything we think and feel is taken in by the corporations…”

“I don’t know when they first had feeds. Like maybe, fifty or a hundred years ago. Before that, they had to use their hands and their eyes. Computers were all outside the body. They carried them around outside of them, in their hands, like if you carried your lungs in a briefcase, and opened it to breathe.”

What I loved about Feed, beyond the fabulous writing, was how the new world is shown to us without interpretation. We hear adults and even the President speaking in jumbled slang like teenagers. A rare metaphor triggers a sweet love affair. As the world disintegrates into chaos with uprisings, vanishing suburbs and skin lesions, people keep shopping and partying. The rebel hackers who resist the feed appear to be lunatics. Or are they the only sane ones left?

Personally, I believe the danger isn’t in technology but in how we use it. Consider the ethical as well as the practical consequences of new technology... or while texting, you might walk into a bear. I bought a paperback copy of this book (without compensation) so that it would be easy to share with my family and add to our physical library. Perhaps in defiance of the feed mentality?

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@Barrie Summy

15 comments:

A Cuban In London said...

I second you. It's not technology per se, but how we, as a species, go about using it. Great post... and scary, too! Welcome back.

Greetings from London.

walk2write said...

We purchased "smart" phones a week or so ago for business purposes. Somehow, I don't trust the darn thing for sending e-mails, surfing the Net, or blogging. It makes me feel a little vulnerable somehow. Maybe it's because Google merged all of my contacts (e-mail as well as phone) without asking my permission. And I now have my husband's contacts on my phone as well. Is Google trying to be helpful, or is there some ulterior motive? Hmmm...

I usually love creepy, futuristic books, but this one might give me nightmares! I'll probably still read it, though, thanks to your excellent review.

Carol said...

Enthralling Sarah! Creepy too. I have not read 'Feed' but you make me want to add it to my 'to read' list. I agree with you, as well, on the use of technology . . . up to a point. It was funny to see the bear video! Interesting that the bear did not chase the person running away. I hope you had a great vacation. Happy May! Carol

Stacy Nyikos said...

I rally enjoyed Feed, and I completely agree with you. The real danger from technology is in how we use it. It's all in the balance, that incredibly elusive mix of all the right elements. Is it sustainable?

Sarah Laurence said...

ACIL, thanks, I was off touring colleges with my son. More on that next week.

W2W, my family is still on dumb phones, partly to save money and also because I don’t want my kids or myself to spend too much time online. I fear I will have to get a smart phone soon. I’d love to hear your reaction to Feed. This book wasn’t that scary but it was creepy.

Carol, I was surprised that the bear didn’t give chase either. We that live in bear country know that it is best to back away slowly but I imagine that the instinct to run would be hard to resist. I did have a good vacation although it felt more like work visiting colleges. Do share your reaction to Feed once you’ve read it.

Stacy, thanks for sharing your reaction.

All, I’m going offline to edit an article for my husband. He’s presenting an excerpt from his upcoming book about the internet and public broadcasting to a working group at Harvard. For fun he’s reading Feed. I’ll be back online tomorrow.

Cid said...

Interesting and not very futuristic concept which makes it more than a little scary. But I do think I will read/feed it on my Kobo anyways.

Ellen Booraem said...

Hate to say it, Sarah, but I read this recently on my Kindle! (While traveling, I hasten to add--I keep resisting using it when physical books are present.)

Great review. As you say, the story is most compelling because of the matter-of-fact narration, even when it's clear our civilization is imploding.

I've been looking into a lot of this stuff because of a book I've been researching--just about to crack open THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR by Raymond Kurzweil. Of all the futurists' predictions, the notion of the internet appearing before your eyes (even in glasses or contact lenses) is the one baffles me most. How could you function with all that distraction?

But I'm sure our grandparents would have said the same about earbuds.

Rose said...

As technology advances faster and faster, so often I think of some Ray Bradbury story, where people didn't interact with each other anymore. Yet science fiction writers from the past couldn't even envision some of the advances we've made. This book sounds eerily realistic. I agree, it's how we use technology that makes the difference. In fact, I think I'll get off the computer now and go work in the garden and watch the butterflies:)

cynthia said...

The world without interpretation--leaving work for the reader to do. Sounds like a cool book. As much as I want to LOVE reading books electronically, I just can't. Makes me happy that you bought the physical book. Enjoyed the photos below.

Donna said...

That sounds like a really interesting book, and like you said, eerily similar to reality. Thanks for the review; I added this book to my to-read list. :)

☆sapphire said...

Hi

Oh that sounds very intriguing! Some people say that the future of computer technology is a very bright one: one example is it will help solve many medical problems by reinterpreting sensory data and modulating brain activity... That sounds great, though I suspect that everything could be a computer and could be used or adopted by anybody will pose a crisis for humans in the future. Anyway, I'd love to read it!! Thanks for your nice review!!

troutbirder said...

Some time ago I abandoned reading dystopian novels. It's called the "ostrich syndrome." Well, wait a minute, I do like time machine stories as long as they take me back......

Alyssa Goodnight said...

This sounds very interesting...but creepy to think that some of it at least might very shortly be coming true!

It's crazy to think that fifteen years ago I didn't even have a cell phone!

My younger son would probably like this, assuming it's appropriate for his age level. I'll check into that. Thanks for the review!

Petra said...

Sarah, the book sounds interesting, it's good (and perhaps even necessary) to ponder over such possible development. As for the future, I can't believe that something like this could happen, it sounds insane. Such scenario would represent a golden goose for sellers and one's intimate privacy would be gone! To understand one's thoughts and feelings better than their owner and use this knowledge for making profit? Well, psychoanalysts also make money this way but they help people to understand and solve their problems, not to make them spend more and more money. On the other hand, wouldn't we save much time and money if someone was able to offer us products tailored to our needs? In my opinion, the price we'd have to pay seems exorbitantly high...

Bee said...

This is on my dystopian reading list. It sounds scarily relevant to our times.