“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

Books on Tap met at Champion Brewing Company on Thursday, November 4 to discuss Feed by M.T. Anderson. Feed is a young adult dystopian novel from 2002 within the “cyberpunk subgenre.” Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction; cyberpunk books include “countercultural antiheroes trapped in a dehumanized, high-tech future” (Britannica). Put another way, it is “high tech, low life.” It’s dark and gritty, but hey, there are flying cars (upcars) and air factories! Plus you can vacation on the moon, and a beefed-up version of the Internet (social media, mind-chatting, and most of all, online shopping) is literally implanted in your brain. Meet the feed.  

We talked about Titus, the main character, who qualifies as a “low life.” Some readers called him a “disappointing” character, noting his lack of empathy, immaturity, and inability to cope with challenging life situations. It was especially hard to read his romantic involvement with Violet, a feed-resisting rebel girl, who served as a foil for Titus. Our group noted that love as we experience it was not modeled for Titus; his society was broken in more ways than one. This problem could not be blamed simply on the feed. It wasn’t a single piece of technology that served as the antagonist; Anderson drops us into a whole new world, one in which parents buy new cars for grieving teens, expecting the shiny new thing to make everything better. These people are different from us (we hope), even beyond the feed, and that was uncomfortable and dizzying to read at times. 

In another way, we appreciated Titus as a literary device. What made the book so powerful was Anderson’s ability to both blame the feed and blame humanity separate from the feed. The human layers of this story — bad decisions, cowardice, a loose cannon teenager without support or guidance from trustworthy adults — hit you hard. The flaws and mistakes we read could eerily often be seen in our own homes, and that’s what gives the book urgency as well as intimacy with its readers. 

Who are we investing in in our own society? Feed prizes consumerism. In today’s culture, what do we prize? Productivity? Self-sufficiency? Individuality? Allegiance to a political party, cultural standard, or label? Similarly, we can ask what content fills our own feed. And who fills our feed. There is a time in the book when Titus essentially becomes Violet’s feed; the only information inputs she receives are from him. We’ve heard that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with — in fact, some research suggests the sphere of influence might be a lot larger. So take stock of not just your five most frequent friends, but all your friends and family, your work, neighbors, and community. 

These books often lead us to want to do something. We began talking about how we are worried for the next generation. We talked about technology like it’s unstoppable and unknowable, a force of its own. There are three things I’d say should come next, hopefully in balance with one another: 1) intentional mindfulness about our consumption habits, the power of corporations, and environmental decay — plus small steps of self-growth in these areas; 2) time to relax our minds about the future — as one group member said, “every generation worries about their children, but so far everyone has made it out okay”; and, 3) allow yourself to simply enjoy the book! Appreciate the crazy lingo and the super impressive creativity and thoughtfulness of sci-fi writers like Anderson, who can seemingly predict the future. If you want to read more cyberpunk, try the following titles: 

Neuromancer by William Gibson 

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (now also a TV show on Netflix)

Infomocracy by Malka Older

Moxyland by Lauren Beukes 

Want by Cindy Pon (technically YA) 

Books on Tap will meet on Thursday, December 2, at 7 pm, to discuss Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. 

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