In 1949, George Orwell published a dystopian masterpiece that remains frightening in its possibilities of the future’s ruin. His projection of the world in “1984” has not yet come to pass, but aspects of his story are just possible enough to make hair stand on end.
But Orwell did not foresee one huge technological development: social media. The links between Newspeak and social media language phenomena, thoughtcrime and Twitter surveillance and social media censorship and the Ministry of Truth are fascinating.
Dystopian novels run rampant in the literary world, with classics like “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” as well as modern popular book series like Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” Good dystopian novels always have elements that make them seem remotely possible, and each brings its own thought-provoking set of questions.
One such novel, “Feed,” by M.T. Anderson, is particularly disturbing when read in light of current social media technology. This 2002 novel was critically well-received as a National Book Award Finalist.
The premise of “Feed” is that American society is dominated by all-encompassing consumerism, escalated to dangerous levels by the insertion of a “feed” chip into everyone’s brain.
In every way the feed appears to be a startling evolution of the Facebook Newsfeed. It has become intertwined with consciousness, a machine that dominates thought. Not only does it provide thought-access to the social lives of others, but it makes suggestions when the right words were on the tip of the tongue, like a hands-free, effortless search engine.
Most disconcerting of all are the advertisements the feed displays based on the host’s behavior. The feed constantly registers all stores, activities and products that appeal to the host. Consumerism is too easy, and the feed hosts are willing slaves to consumerism.
The tragedy of “Feed” is that once a feed is implanted, it makes thinking almost unnecessary, creating unknowing submission to the chip. When the heroine of the story tries to fight against the feed, it destroys her, too intertwined in her consciousness to be resisted.
The idea of a mental feed feels very possible in light of Google Glass. Google Glass technology brings the feed closer, and reduces required thought and effort by making typical smartphone requests possible through voice commands. It’s only a matter of time before Google Glass is available to everyone; it’s only a matter of time before Google Glass has competition and it’s only a matter of time before this competition spawns innovation. It’s not hard to picture the mental feed happening in time.
“Feed” readjusts the horror of “1984” with social media technology. Anderson’s dystopia is not as developed as Orwell’s.
“1984” is where we get, while “Feed” is how we get there.
Pause to consider the ramifications of immersing ourselves too fully in the wonders of social media and related devices. Technological progress is inevitable; society cannot stagnate. But, s in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Every invention that brings society forward has side effects. Consider the potential costs, consider the advantages, but don’t be so enamored with innovation that you overlook the danger nestled in your keyboards, beneath your touch screens or behind your Google Glass.
Everyone is on the internet but they’re not all talking with each other. There are groups upon groups out there, but they don’t talk to one another. So while the internet brings everyone into a shared space, it does not necessarily bring them together.