Feed: A Critical Review
M.T. Anderson drops you in the world Titus lives in without explanation. In the first few pages of Feed we’re introduced to different slang, technology, and, of course, The Feeds. The decision to let readers infer some things in the story, like Slang, and wait to explain other elements in the story, like the Feed, gives the story authenticity.
Titus is the narrator of the story. A teenager who has grown up surrounded by the technology and terminology scattered throughout the book. As such, he does not think much about his surroundings. As a result, it would be realistic for him to describe things as if everyone knew what he was talking about, as he does from page one.
In his explanation as to why he and his friends were going to the moon, Titus says: “Everything at home was boring. Link Arwaker was like: “I’m so null,” and Marty was all, “I’m null too, unit,” but I mean we were all pretty null … (1).”
The risk in writing like this is that it has the chance of confusing readers as to what is going on and what is trying to be conveyed. Those with a low social IQ or weak critical analysis skills may not infer that “null” is the equivalent of bored, especially since the only real clues we have as to its meaning is the tone and Titus saying, “Everything at home was boring.”
A paragraph later and we’re introduced to another element in Titus’ world, The Feed. Once again we get no explanation as to what it is:
“We flew up and our feeds were burbling all sorts of things about where to stay and what to eat. It sounded pretty fun, and at first there were lots of pictures of dancing and people with romper-gills and metal wings, and I was like, This will be big, really big, but then … (1).”
In both cases, if Anderson had stopped to explain the slang or what a Feed was, it would have been jarring and made the story less realistic. After all, when modern teenagers say “I’ve been on the computer all day,” they do not follow that up with “A computer is a…” because they assume the person they are speaking with already knows what one is.
However, another issue with this technique is that readers need a chance to fully-orient themselves in the world before they reach the true beginning of the story. This can be dangerous. Most modern readers want the story to start immediately, and in having the characters flying to the moon and then getting settled on the moon, as Anderson does, could lose a lot of readers. By the end of the first two chapters–or what I perceived as chapters–I was asking myself “Is this book almost done?” It was slow. The story didn’t actually start until chapter “The Nose Grid.” However, if Anderson had simply started the book where the story started, he may have lost even more readers as they were trying to orient themselves in the book and keep track of what was happening in the story. So Anderson gives readers and the book what it needs, a few pages of set-up.
It isn’t until after Titus and his friends have their Feed corrupted by a hacker that we really learn what a Feed is. This is because they’ve been disconnected from the Feed, the internet. And because Titus is alone in his head for the first time in his life, he actually thinks about the device:
I missed the feed.
I don’t know when they first had feeds. Like maybe, fifty or a hundred years ago. Before that they had to use their hands and eyes. Computers were all outside the body. They carried them around outside of them, in their hands, like if you carried your lungs in a briefcase and opened it to breathe (39).
In this case, Anderson is using the old cliché “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” to tell readers what the feed is, without leaving the realm of believability in the story. The Feed has been in Titus’ head all his life. He’s never questioned it being there, never wondered about it, until he was temporarily disconnected from it. Readers can believe it and are satisfied with how it is presented to them.
With the explanation in hand, readers are better able to comprehend what the narrator is doing throughout the story, especially as his use becomes more complicated than simply listening to the Feed. He chats, he does internet searches, he buys things and listens to music, which may have provided confusion without the provided explanation.
Delaying giving an explanation or simply letting readers infer the information themselves, gives the story authenticity and stays true to the books needs.