Part One: Moon
We are introduced to the characters as they journey to the moon for their summer vacation. They discuss the ‘feed’: an implant in their head that essentially gives them direct access to the internet, so that they can access whatever information they want instantaneously. Though underage, they attempt to get into a party, but are refused entry. Disheartened but eager to make sure they don’t remember the night as a disappointment, the group settles on going to a low-gravity amusement park. It is here that they meet the mysterious but attractive Violet, who immediately grasps the attention and curiosity of Titus, the protagonist and narrator of the story.
The group invites Violent to go clubbing with them later that night. At the club, an old man confronts them and forces them to repeat the statement “We enter a time of calamity.” The party is shortly shut down by the police.
Part Two: Eden
Now in hospital, the group discovers that their feed has been turned off. They struggle massively with adapting to life without access to all of the feed’s features, especially the communication tools. It is here that we begin to get a sense of the true extent to which technology and corporatism have taken over all aspects of these teens’ human experience: though during the earlier scenes we see them acting like normal teenagers, it is not until the feed is lost that we realise those experiences were propped up by this artificial technology, and so they were not very normal at all.
Titus and Violet kiss while they look out to space. Violet reveals to Titus that her father works as a college professor who researches dead languages. Eventually, the groups’ feeds are restored, and they make their way back to their home on Earth.
Part Three: Utopia
At a party, Titus expresses to the group that he is becoming infatuated with Violet, but his friends think she is pretentious. A message from the feed reveals that the cause of the lesions some citizens are suffering from may be the radiation and pollution exerted by the work of various industries. Violet reveals to Titus that her feed has been malfunctioning since the moon. Afterwards, she takes him to the moon and tells him about her plan to “create a consumer profile that’s so screwed, no one can market it.” Essentially, Violet is attempting to subvert the oppression of the feed in order to escape its grasp. The pair then visit different stores, inquiring about different obscure items but not purchasing anything, confusing their feeds.
The more Titus hangs out with Violet the more insecure he feels, as it becomes clear that she is very intelligent – beyond the information the feed provides her – and that he cannot keep up with her in conversation or thought.
Noticing their son’s change in mood, Titus’ parents buy him a flying car in an attempt to lift his spirits. Titus invites Violet over for dinner and to meet his parents, where Violet gets into an argument with Titus’ dad over trees; he fails to see the irony in chopping down forests to make way for oxygen factories, which bewilders her. Meanwhile, Titus thinks Violet’s dad is strange, and it is clear to the reader that the true cause of his discomfort is because of Titus’ very limited knowledge of how the world truly works, which is a consequence of his use of the feed and failure to educate himself beyond the information it provides to him.
Titus is disturbed by the onset of violent and disturbing dreams in which he sees scenes of disorder and chaos confront him. Violet’s feed is hacked and begins to seriously malfunction. She struggles to fit in with the others, which Titus perceives as her being pretentious, and he grows tired of her negativity and pessimism.
At a party, the group – including Violet – encounters Quendy, a girl whose body is covered with lesions. Quendy attempts to pass off the cuts as normal, but the group is quietly disturbed. It is this passiveness that enrages Violet, and she leaves the party. Outside, her body malfunctions.
Part Four: Slumberland
Now in hospital, Violet realises that she is going to die. She sends Titus her memories so that they may live on, but he deletes them. Miraculously, Violet recovers, and she and Titus take a holiday to the mountains. There, Violet attempts to have sex with Titus, but he rejects her and they break up.
Titus ignores Violet for weeks, and when he finally decides to visit her again, he discovers that she is unconscious. He encounters her father, who blames Titus for his daughter’s condition. In a burst of emotion, Violet’s father rails against the consumerist world, and claims that the world is dying because of people’s fixation with buying the latest trends without regard for the long-lasting consequences of such behaviour.
Two days later, Titus visits Violet again and promises never to forget her.
Feed was composed in the early twenty-first century, a time of massive social and cultural change. At the root of that change was the proliferation of technology, and the previously unimagined opportunities it made available in all aspects of life. Perhaps more than any other technological advancement, the democratisation of the internet grasped the public imagination, as it connected people from around the world, made access to news media and entertainment infinitely more straightforward, and most crucially, seemed to have no limitations or drawbacks. Accordingly, in the first decade of the internet’s existence, life changed drastically for everyone, but that shift was arguably felt most sharply by teenagers and young adults, given their already precarious and vulnerable position in society. Indeed, the forces of social and cultural life that have perennially challenged teenagers, such as social status, relationships, exposure to drugs and alcohol and body image, just to name a few, became even more immediate and inescapable with the advent of the internet.
In light of the ease of access to entertainment and other interests, the emergence of the internet corresponded with a growing trend towards a materialistic culture, especially in the West. The constant advertising facilitated by the internet and distribution of news media meant that everyone could be completely up to date with whatever trends were going on around the world, leading to a new sense of pressure to stay relevant and fashionable. That materialism lent itself to the rise of a consumerist culture which very much still exists today. Think of advertisements for the latest phones or computers, or even clothes; they tend to have a ripple effect as more and more people see them online, and those audiences then feel a sense of urgency to purchase them themselves.
The rise of the internet moreover gave corporations a new kind of power that allowed them to shape social, cultural and political life to a scale that previously did not exist. With the capacity to advertise constantly, and in more and more creative ways, corporations were able to reach audiences and shape their thoughts and behaviours often without those individuals even being fully aware of it.
As such, throughout Feed, Anderson conjures a dystopian vision of the future that is largely shaped by the existence of a materialistic and corporatized world, as the individuals within it struggle to carve out an authentic sense of self in the face of such oppression.
The relationship between language, thought and action
The relationship between language, thought and action is represented throughout the text as being inherently one-dimensional and uncomplex. And yet in conveying it in that way, Anderson hints at the true complexity of that relationship. Specifically, we see the characters’ thoughts and actions directed to them by advertising, and their language is corrupted and simplified as a result of their lack of a worldly or sophisticated education. This is especially clear in the scene where the doctor struggles to articulate himself, and instead relies on almost comically shortened variations of common phrases. In that way, language becomes symbolic of the extent to which materialism and consumerism limit our capacity for independent and reasoned thought and action. Referring back to the idea that Anderson demonstrates the actual complexity of the relationship between language, thought and action by instead presenting it as one that lacks sophistication, we see this to be true as we are left to contemplate how language operates in our current environment, the present threat technology poses to it, and what may be lost if we fail to restrain it and corporations. Essentially, by depicting an unsophisticated form of language, Anderson highlights how complex it actually is.
The negative consequences of consumerism on the individual and the natural world
Though Violet and her father directly address the negative consequences of consumerism on the individual and the natural environment, those costs are largely addressed in passing throughout the text, demonstrating the extent to which the power of corporations has become normalised in this dystopian future. The lesions are symbolic of the extreme lengths to which people will subject themselves in order to keep up with consumerist trends, while the irony of the air factory is a comment on the absurdity of the sacrifices that are made in order to sustain consumerism. As Anderson rarely comments directly on such negative aspects, the text becomes all the more haunting, as we are left to fill the silence by reflecting on how our own consumerism affects the environment today.
The absolute control of corporations over all aspects of human experience
Just as Anderson avoids directly speaking on the issue of the negative consequences of consumerism, he similarly demonstrates the absolute control of corporations through scene-setting and world-building, and in passing references between characters, which again affirms just how entrenched that state of affairs has become. Most memorably is the use of the trademark motif in “School TM” and “Clouds TM,” an obvious satire of the privatisation of all elements of human experience. Indeed even the term “feed” can be understood as a critique of that power, as it can be taken to reflect the way in which it consumes its human operator.
The pressure to conform
Anderson deliberately chose to make his protagonists teenagers in order to more effectively explore the issues associated with growing up and developing a sense of identity. It is during this time that people are most vulnerable to the influence of others, especially concerning social activities or other identifiers. In Anderson’s dystopian world, that pressure is notched up to the absolute extreme, where again it is normalised to the extent that people casually engage in self-destructive and life-threatening behaviours because it seems socially acceptable, as is seen when the people at the party suffocate themselves to get high. Titus’ character embodies the struggle between conformity and retaining a sense of individual identity: “It was like I kept buying these things to be cool, but cool was always flying just ahead of me, and I could never exactly catch up.” Though it remains unclear whether Titus actually decides to attempt to uncover a sense of authentic, individual identity or resolve himself to conformity, the fact that at the novel’s end he feels somewhat more critical and depressed at the state of the world indicates that he has at least developed a degree of awareness of the truly toxic system perpetuated by consumerism.