Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Thinking Out Loud on the Homefront: A Cautionary Tale

If you've been a reader of mine in recent weeks, you've come to expect me to give you my thoughts on how a novel can relate to my life or to our current world. Some of the more relatable tales recently have been A Man Called Ove, How to Stop Time, and Dark Matter, among others.
Monday morning I finished Nick Clark Windo's "The Feed" and found myself longing for spring to finally show up so I could truly embrace the beauty of as little technology as possible during the day. The Feed is Windo's first thriller, and thrill me it did!

The story Windo crafted, I thought, was pretty straight-forward and solidly split into two halves. We all know how much social media and technology dominate our lives now, but what if someone creates a way for it all to be implanted in us so that we are all linked to everyone and everything all the time? And then, what happens if that system - the Feed - collapses? And should that happen, and then someone go missing, what would you do to find him or her?
As you could imagine, being so reliant on such a thing as the Feed would be terrifying, and it is portrayed as such with the world created. For instance, no one seems to remember the right ointment to use on a cut, or how to cook certain foods, or how to work basic equipment.
Perhaps not so oddly, among the people who adapt best to a world with no Feed are the ones who have lived the longest. They lived before it, during it, and after it. In fact, one minor character, Graham, states early in the story, "I know you called us old Resisters, but she never needed the Feed. We didn't want it. The real world was enough." Graham says this after he is joined by the main characters, Tom and Kate, as he is forced to bury his deceased wife.
Now, think about that observation: "The real world was enough." It reminds me of a picture I saw (on social media, of course) of what appeared to be a crowd watching a lively parade. Everyone in the crowd is holding up their cell phones to take a picture. A woman who spent most of her life without a cell phone is looking on, sans phone, and smiling. To her, the memory of the moment is more important than taking a picture she probably won't look at again.
Graham also gives another argument against the Feed ever having existed just a few pages later:
"I always pitied your generation. Being a child. For me, before all that stuff was invented, that's when I felt most alive. So many joys you never had. You were never actually present. You lacked the opportunity for anything worked at. Your knowledge was transitory, not deep. You didn't invest in it and most of the time you didn't understand it. You certainly can't remember it....You're living the most natural life you've ever lived right now."
If I'm being completely honest with myself, I don't think I could live comfortably without certain technology many of us take for granted. I enjoy lighting the rooms in my house at night, and microwaving popcorn, and having a dishwasher and a washing machine, and a furnace, and so on. I know I rely on my car to get me quickly from point A to point B. I'd learn to make things work, but progress has made many things easier to do than ever before.
Throughout a variety of circumstances outlined in the book, Tom and Kate, and Graham and a handful of other supporting characters, suffer some losses early on in the story. Some members of their party are "taken" and at one point Tom and Kate's daughter, Bea, goes missing. They then set out to find her. Making that task nearly impossible is the fact they cannot use GPS or any other person locating tool available today, be it an alert of some kind or even a phone to the local law enforcement agency. They are on an old fashioned hunt that forces them to ask what they are willing to sacrifice for their daughter.
At this point in the story, about halfway, I thought I had figured the ultimate ending out. I thought stories like this tend to follow a similar progression, so I thought they'd find their daughter and she'd be some integral part in a master plan that would then be explained. In hindsight, I was setting myself up for disappointment.
And was I ever wrong. For as Tom and Kate's journey to find Bea winds up taking them to another camp with some other Feed-less survivors scavenging lives for themselves, Windo manages to take the story in a completely unforeseen direction, and it was a pleasant surprise for me as a reader.
To talk too much about the second half of The Feed would be to spoil a lot of it. However, what I can say is that the questions raised in the first half - How much technology is too much? What effect will it have on our world? What would you sacrifice to get what you want? - are still very prominent in the second half, but in such a vastly different way.
Like I said when I started, finishing this book made me long for better weather so that I can get some yard work done around my house, and stain one of the wooden decks that needs a fresh coat. Getting outside and getting away from technology (although I may still have a radio playing music nearby) is always a good thing. Ironically, in Tom and Kate's story, I bookmarked only pages with Graham quotes that I liked. And this one seems to sum up the joy of getting away from social media, or the TV, or whatever else a person uses, even if getting away means just enjoying a cordial beverage on your front porch: "Life is what it is. And if you've got that straight, no one can ever touch you."
Finally, I should note that like some other books I've read recently, The Feed will also see a screen adaptation in the future, although it will be on TV and not in a movie theater. I think it will have many viewers tune in based off inevitable comparisons to other popular shows. But keep in mind The Feed is different. It's a thriller for sure, but at its heart, the message I took from it was simple: enjoy life with technology, but be careful to not let it become your life.

Howie Balaban is moving on to book 17 of 2018.  He hasn't read this much in years, but it's another way to get away from technology for a few hours each week, and he encourages others to do the same.