At this point in Feed, it has become clear that this device is so inextricably tied to the characters’ physical bodies. When Titus and his friends wake up in the hospital to find that their feeds are unavailable, they feel as if they have lost a limb. And when their feeds are repaired, the joy that these characters experience is so overwhelmingly euphoric that the reader finds themselves judging the characters for their emotions. As the story progresses, Violet’s feed begins severely malfunctioning. She even tells Titus that she faces the risk of death, having had her feed installed later in life. Because of her deteriorating feed, various parts of Violet’s body are shutting down. After Violet and Titus leave the mountains, her arm stops working and when she arrives home, her leg fails as well.
The physical connection between the feed and the characters’ bodies is probably the most appalling facet of M.T. Anderson’s book. This phenomenon is not entirely fictional–today’s technology companies are able to program our phones to get us to check in constantly. Several programmers and Silicon Valley insiders call this “brain hacking.”
According to a former Google product manager, tech companies are involved in a “race to the bottom of the brainstem” meaning that the lower on the brainstem a product gets to, the more successful it is. This is a race to our most primitive emotions—fear, anxiety, loneliness, and the need for attention. Several programs are designed to provoke a neurological response. For example, on Instagram, likes are withheld for a short period so that later they come in a big burst, provoking a sudden rush of dopamine. Furthermore, the longer that we engage with these platforms, the more data that companies collect about us, and the more they are able to tailor their algorithms to our habits.
Larry Rosen, a researcher at California State University, is researching the effect that technology has on our anxiety levels. For example, when you put your phone down, your brain signals your adrenal gland to produce a burst of a hormone called cortisol, which triggers a fight-or-flight response to danger. This anxiety is what causes us to check our phones every 15 minutes or less.
These programmers are shaping the thoughts and actions of people, proving the point that technology is not neutral. These technologies can be used for good or bad, and unfortunately, we are susceptible to the whims of just a few people in Silicon Valley. If we are not mindful of the physical effects of technology, then this phenomenon will only become worse.