M.T. Anderson’s Feed was published in 2002. He wrote for a young adult audience born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The novel is still very much read by young people, including those who were born in the 21st century and who have never experienced a world not dominated by social media.
Titus and the Feed
Feed’s opening clearly sets up the voice of Titus, the protagonist.
We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck. We went on a Friday because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring.
When Titus and his group of friends get there, they find hundreds of other bored teenagers just like them who are trying to find fun stuff to do, but it’s always just the same stuff—getting high, having sex, listening to music. But this has nothing to do with the Moon. It’s all the awesome products suggested by the Feed, which is the microchip in everyone’s brain that not only gives you instant communication with all your friends and access to whatever information you want, but also, most importantly, keeps you up to date with all the latest products you need to truly be an individual.
This is a transcript from the video series Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Technology of the Feed
The technology of the Feed suggests cyberpunk, as does this futuristic Earth, which has perfected space travel around the solar system as well as many other efficiencies. There are now air farms to produce oxygen as well as meat farms. Kids go to School™ (with the little trademark symbol), where they don’t have to learn old-fashioned skills like reading and writing and math since they can get all that from the Feed. Instead of all that boring stuff, School™ gives kids useful skills like how to decorate their rooms and how to choose the best products.
The total reliance on Feed technology not only sucks the humanity out of humans. It also provides distractions rather than solutions. This world is a perfect backdrop for a great cyberpunk narrative. It is dystopian in the extreme, as the average citizen lives in a state of total incomprehension about economics, politics, and environment. People are so distracted by their Feeds that they can concentrate on little beyond their next purchase decision.
Learn more about John Wyndham and young adult dystopia.
Cyberpunk Without the Punk
Titus and his friends can’t hack the Feed, they have no idea how it works. Titus is, in many ways, a worst-case scenario of what many people fear of the millennial generation. For Titus, living in the dystopia to end all dystopias, the main challenges are choosing the right upcar. And dealing with the fact that his friends aren’t really all that crazy about his weird girlfriend.
Violet has the potential to be a punk. Her parents were very late adopters because they feared the Feed would lead them to lose the very skills they were trying to gain from a graduate education in the liberal arts.
Violet’s parents’ suspicions of the system make her a potential punk and a potential victim. Violet didn’t get her Feed until she was seven—way later than Titus and his friends. As a result, she has all kinds of weird skills. She can read and write; she can even think critically.
Titus is attracted to this girl. In fact, he has a ton of fun on their one punk adventure when the two of them go to the mall and Violet tries to prevent her Feed from creating a coherent consumer profile for her by asking for information about a bunch of unrelated stuff and then buying nothing. This is an act of mild resistance.
The Feed Breaks Down
On the night Titus and Violet meet, during spring break on the Moon, they are hacked. Tons of teens are dancing while the band is singing “I’ll Sex You In,” and Titus notices Violet for the first time. And then this creepy old guy comes into a club and starts yelling crazy stuff and broadcasting a doomsday message on the Feed.
And suddenly, Titus is doing the same thing, as are a whole bunch of other people. The old man has hacked the Feed and compelled dozens of people to join him in broadcasting, all in unison. It’s the kind of violation Titus has never even heard of, and even after the hacker is killed by police in front of the kids, Titus and his friends can’t stop broadcasting.
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One could imagine a world in which this dark moment would create more punks. After all, Titus and his friends have to leave the cyberworld entirely for several hours while their Feeds are being repaired. This could lead to that moment of self-knowledge we see in lots of cyberpunk where the punk’s removal from the cyberworld helps him or her return stronger than ever.
Just as Titus and Violet start to discover the world without the Feed and just as Violet notices that Titus has used a metaphor, the medical personnel arrive with the great news that the Feed is back. A rapid-fire series of ads, images, and news flashes, are shared with the reader to round out part 2 of the novel. Part 3, in which the teens return to their normal life, is called, very ironically, “Utopia.”
In part 3, we learn that Violet’s recovery from the attack on her Feed is less complete, partly because of her late adoption of Feed technology. And because of her shopping mall prank, she is marked as an unreliable consumer, so there’s no corporation willing to pay her medical bills when her Feed needs more attention. And thus, it appears that the only punk figure in this novel is doomed.
Common Questions about the Dystopian Future in M.T. Anderson’s Feed
The Feed is the microchip in everyone’s brain that not only gives you instant communication with all your friends and access to whatever information you want, but also, most importantly, keeps you up to date with all the latest products you need to truly be an individual.
Feed is cyberpunk without the punk. Titus and his friends can’t hack the Feed. They have no idea how it works. Titus is, in many ways, a worst-case scenario of what many people fear of the millennial generation.
At one point in the novel, the Feed is hacked by an old man, and Titus, Violet, and others at a nightclub have to be removed from the cyberworld while their Feeds are repaired. This could lead to that moment of self-knowledge. But just as Titus and Violet start to discover the world without the Feed, the Feed is back.