I read dystopian fiction and sci-fi because they reflect our world back to us in unexpected ways. Our visions for the future are rarely optimistic, as we use fiction to explore the extreme end of where our current choices could take us, thought-testing the pros and cons and moral implications of current trends, technology and politics.
For the last few years, this has been a particularly rich genre within the YA (or young adult) space. Perhaps this is because a younger audience is more curious, their developing intellect still working out what they think of the world and the way in which we’re using it. Or perhaps it’s simply because young people are fearful for the future because they’re the ones who are going to have to live in it.
Feed by M.T. Anderson is a YA sci-fi novel. It was published in 2002, but is more relevant than ever. In the world of Feed, the internet has broken out of the confines of mere devices and is now a constant presence in everyone’s mind. This is achieved via hardware that is integrated with their neural network and nervous system to provide the ultimate immersive experience. People can communicate through a kind of digital telepathy, they can augment their view of reality with useful information, they can research and learn about any topic instantly, all within their own heads.
Of course, capitalism being what it is, this amazing technology is primarily used for advertising. Because it’s so easy to do so, people are constantly purchasing items even if they don’t really want them. It’s easier to give into the advertising than resist.
We see the population being reduced from actual people to mere consumers. Children attend corporation-run SchoolTM where they learn useful subjects such as how to use their feeds, how to find bargains, and how to decorate a bedroom. Whether people receive services such as health care is based on whether they are seen to be a good investment — does their consumer behaviour indicate that they will spend enough money to make healing them worthwhile?
It’s an unsettling glimpse of the future, even more so when you realise that it’s simply a view of now, with the volume turned up.
When this kind of reading material gets me down, I think about the many-worlds theory. Feed’s view of the future is just one possible world. It doesn’t have to be ours. Every choice we make is our way to contribute to making possible the kind of world that we actually want to live in.