Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Feed, pro and con

Ever since we all read M.T. Anderson's YA novel Feed at my house, we have discussions about what it would be like to have a feed in our own, personal heads. What is a feed? It's a combination of radio/tv/internet that goes directly into a person's brain. It learns to recommend stuff you'll like and it can even continue broadcasting while you're asleep, influencing your dreams.

The novel is written in a snarky, satiric way that makes the feed seem like a pretty bad idea. The characters are driven and controlled by their feeds, except for the two main characters who learn to resist the feed (and one of them learns how to resist only because she got the feed late in life--after toddlerhood, that is, and her body rejects the connection). Here are some of the ways you see that having a feed is a bad deal:

--Having a feed (and possibly living in the destroyed environment of the world of Feed) gives a person lesions. Soon lesions become trendy (one is described as "like a necklace") and cool kids get artifical lesions (that is, artificially created open wounds).
--Because people are living so much in their own heads, they don't notice how they are destroying the world around them. The environment of the world of Feed is so bad that if they want to go in the ocean, they have to wear Hazmat suits. Beef is raised at a place that doesn't have any actual cows, just miles of tissue; there's a steak maze for agri-tainment.
--People are buying stupid things over their feeds, because they think they want them once they see them advertised--things like trendy clothing and fashionable things to eat (pot-stickers).
--Trends last for mere hours, or even minutes. At one point, three female characters go to the bathroom of a club and reappear with new hairstyles.
--Because people can look up anything instantly on their feeds, they don't bother to learn things. They have no idea what the difference is between a democracy and a republic, and even though at one point they wear "riot gear" reminiscent of what was worn at the Watts riot, Kent State, or the WTO riot, they have no idea what sparked any of those events.

How far away are we from this last example? First-year college students could identify the causes of one out of three riots (Kent State) last time I checked. How far away are we from any of this stuff?

Tune in next time for a discussion of the pros of having a Feed, much of it based on Steven Johnson's book Everything Bad Is Good For You.

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