Feed, by M.T. Anderson, is the single book I recommend to those wondering where the future of connected commerce, communication and socialization is going. It is a book that magnifies what we are experiencing today, and in doing so, shows us what is right around the corner.
Feed covers many aspects of what we're beginning to experience today. Social class and access to technology is a main theme throughout the book. Social commerce and brand engagement is another.
Feed is a book about a future in which most humans are connected to each other by a real-time updating stream of data called the "Feed'. Instead of this feed being accessible by one's mobile phone, the feed is hard-wired into people's brains. This causes some problems, as those of different monetary capabilities experience problems based on how often they can afford to update their hardware. This is not much different from today, where we are beginning to see those who cannot afford more recent technological devices suffer setbacks in connectivity and opportunity. The problem will only be exacerbated as our devices increasingly become our second brains and our primary means of communication.
The social network jargon in the book is excellent. Those connected on social networks have their own terminologies such as "I'm totally Null, Unit", Null being bored. The description of the popular show "Oh, Wow, Thing!" is one of the best parts of the book, as the idea of one's everyday life online is really about saying "(Oh)...(wow)! Look at (thing)!", followed by a hyperlink. Many popular Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr status updates thrive in this format.
Social Commerce and Brand Engagement
The book covers social commerce very well. Everything a person purchases and looks at is tracked, and reccomendations are made based on those in one's social network. Sometimes brands hold contests. An example in the book is a contest from Coca-Cola where one could get a big supply of Coke by using Coca-Cola in conversation as many times as possible in a short period of time. To win the contest, which was more like a social game, the characters in the book began saying things like "I love Coke for it's bubbly freshness". All of this text is spread throughout the network and indexed. The game is won, and the prize is awarded.
Brands also sponsor consumers. For instance, one's consumption patterns create a customer profile that allows companies to bid on them and provide support in the form of sponsorship. The main protagonist's purchasing history is taken into consideration when she applies for medical assistance. Because she has consciously subverted her consumer profile by clicking on random items, she is unable to get the support she needs... (and I will not give away any more of the story than that).
Prosthetics and their Discontents
Spam is a big issue in the book. When one's mind is connected to the Feed, one's experience of spam is one of everyday annoyance. Just as one's everyday life is filled with billboard advertisements and ads, spam attacks figure into the mix with unhelpful visual and mental pollution.
There are some slight differences between this book and the world we live in today. For one, interstellar travel is both common and possible. For instance, the main character has a trust fund which allows him to hang out with his friends on the moon. The moon, in this case, can easily be replaced with global resorts and foreign party countries. There are many hot spots around the world accessible by wealthy global youth that take quite a bit of time to get to. In this case, it is not quite so different than travelling to one of these expensive destinations today.
Science fiction is a powerful tool for social commentary on contemporary society. Many authors have purposefully set their narratives in alternate universes, in the future, or in space, in order to safely comment on the real world. I think that this story does just that.
While this book may not as well-known in the science fiction community because it is a book aimed at young adults. It is also relatively new (published in 2001), and thus it may not really in the category of classic or cyberpunk science fiction. Nevertheless, I highly recommend it and am very glad people are beginning to notice it.