Google’s Brave New World: The Feed Is Here

M.T. Anderson, FeedBut 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, mainly by data ones like Feedlink and OnFeed and American Feedware, and they make a special profile, one that’s keyed just to you, and then they give it to their branch companies, or other companies buy them, and they can get to know what it is we need, so all you have to do is want something and there’s a chance it will be yours.

— M.T. Anderson, Feed (2002), p. 48

Presumably, the people at Google have not read M.T. Anderson‘s Feed.  Or, if they have, they misread his dystopia as a utopia.  Either way, Google’s new “Project Glass” is eerily familiar.

Nearly all of the comments on Project Glass’s Google Plus page are enthusiastic.  “Count me in for a beta test group!”   “Future can’t get here fast enough!”  And, of course, “Glasses are nice, but how soon can I just plug them straight into my brain?”

Google's Project Glass (photo from Google)As in the imagined future of Anderson’s novel, this earliest incarnation of the feed is external — but, as technology improves (in the book), people have it implanted.  And, as Anderson’s novel suggests, being plugged into the feed all the time exacerbates the effects of, say, being on Facebook or Twitter all the time — remarkably prescient, given that his novel came out two years before Facebook, and four years prior to Twitter.  Dramatizing the experience of always being bombarded by the feed, the novel’s main characters lack an attention span, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to use language with any sophistication.  These deficits make them easy targets for advertisers and politicians.  As Violet says,  “They’re also making you want things. Everything we’ve grown up with — the stories on the feed, the games, all of that — it’s all streamlining our personalities so we’re easier to sell to” (97).  And: “No one with feeds thinks about it, she said. When you have the feed all your life, you’re brought up not to think about thingsBecause of the feed, we’re raising a nation of idiots” (113).

So, Google, before you lead us further into this brave new world, consider for a moment.  Read Anderson’s novel.  Are you sure this is such a great idea?

6 Comments »

  1. Demisty Said,

    April 7, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    This is the best book review for Feed I’ve ever read. Admittedly, I’ve never read a book review of Feed before, but after reading this post, I’m going to put it on my summer reading list.

  2. M. T. Anderson Said,

    April 8, 2012 @ 10:31 am

    Hey there, Phil!

    Thanks so much for posting this! I’m actually off to talk to a few schools about these issues tomorrow …

    To me, the pernicious part of things like the Google goggles is that while they are explicitly supposed to saturate you with information about the world, they are actually, in many ways, concealing as much as they reveal.

    Thanks again for the shout-out!

    mta

  3. Philip Nel Said,

    April 8, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

    Backatcha, Tobin! For better and worse, Feed will be required reading for the foreseeable future — better because it’s a beautifully written, incisive portrait of the world we’re moving toward, & worse because we’re moving closer to the world of Feed all the time. Thanks for writing it! Hope the talks go well tomorrow –

  4. Bill Genereux Said,

    April 29, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

    I read Feed over the weekend on my Kindle. It is ironic that it was a digital impulse purchase based upon your recommendation. However, I’m glad I did. I think I will also ask my digital media students to read it in the future. I normally have a working and living digitally project, so this will fit right with that theme. We are making a video this semester that includes a scene of a family that doesn’t speak- instead only uses texting. I wish I would have started the semester with Feed.

    Have you read Kurzweil’s Singularity is Near? He has a rather utopian view of computer enhanced intelligence. As I read it, I envisioned the problems and viruses that would plague people with always-on bio-connections to the Internet. Feed painted this picture vividly.

    I’ve been asking my students how many would sign up to bio-connect their brains to the Internet if it were available. Usually at least half say they would do it. Thanks for the great read and food for thought. Maybe this story will encourage deeper thInking on the issue.

  5. Philip Nel Said,

    April 29, 2012 @ 9:32 pm

    Glad you enjoyed Feed. Haven’t read Singularity is Near, but thanks for the tip. Also, I bet if/when your students read Feed, they’ll likely find the notion of a bio-connection to the internet more troubling than than appealing.

  6. Erica KG Said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 7:56 pm

    Hello,
    I read Feed in middle school, but ever since I’ve constantly been reminded by this book. Each year I find that new electronic devices or programs are capable of transforming our world into the reality represented in Feed. The internet can be used for so much good, in spreading information, communication and opinions, but at the same time some parts of the internet can be used to create a twisted world of dysfunctional relationships and a society run by corporate control. This is why we have the internet, to check power, to spread information to make sure authority is not taking advantage of us. But what happens when there isn’t as much regulation? I just hope that people will continue to discuss the ethics and possible effects of a device before it becomes part of the acceptable status quo. Thank you for writing this. It frightens me to think that people could want a computer chip implanted into their heads (as Bill said), but it reassures me to know that a book can help people become aware of the consequences of what could happen.

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