Apathy is the emotion that corporations aim to produce in their consumers, and as a result it has become the default emotional state of the characters in Feed. Titus and his friends coast through life, spending all their money on obscenely expensive products and exotic vacations. And yet, instead of being excited by all these new trips and purchases, Titus and his friends seem to be almost constantly bored. The reason for Titus’s apathy—and the crux of Anderson’s insight on the subject—is that real happiness and fulfillment take time and effort to achieve. Titus’s feed has conditioned him to expect nothing but constant, instant gratification—which ultimately proves not to be all that gratifying.
The reason everyone in Feed is so apathetic is that they’re completely dependent on their feeds for pleasure. In the society described in Anderson’s book, almost nobody knows how to make themselves happy. Since the feed can provide entertainment twenty-four hours a day (people even use their feeds to dream), people have largely abandoned some of the most basic sources of happiness—for example, family. Titus seems utterly apathetic toward his mom, dad, and brother (to whom he always refers as Smell Factor), just as they show apathy toward him. Many families bond by spending time together, arguing, and “growing together.” But for Titus’s family, there’s no such thing as “together”—since even when they’re in the same room, they’re all lost in their own little worlds, watching feedcasts and chatting via feed with their friends. To them, the idea of family time seems dull by comparison.
Even though Titus and his peers rely on their feeds for happiness, the pleasure their feeds provide them isn’t actually satisfying. This is true for three closely related reasons. First, the feeds are unsatisfying because of the constant and inescapable barrage of ads, which means there’s no time to savor the pleasures the feed offers. After Titus buys a flying car, for example, he seems to get little, if any, pleasure from his purchase, because he’s too busy thinking about his next purchases. Even when he’s driving his new car, he’s shopping for jerseys and sweater vests. Buying a car doesn’t satisfy him, it just staves off dissatisfaction until he buys something else. Second, because of the sheer quantity of pleasure the feed offers, Titus and his peers become numb to this pleasure. They have access to almost unlimited cash, so they can indulge in luxury vacations and shopping sprees whenever they want. The result is that even a trip to the moon—an incredibly exciting activity, one would think—isn’t enough to jolt Titus out of his apathy. Third, the feeds are designed to leave its users unsatisfied, because it keeps them coming back for more. In the future, ads and entertainment have become virtually indistinguishable. As Violet Durn explains, songs have become jingles, and feedcasts (i.e., television and movies) have become feature-length commercials. This has enormous consequences for the consumer: instead of providing satisfaction and closure, feed entertainment is only designed to generate more desire for products. In all, Titus and his friends don’t have the imagination to have fun on their own, and their feeds are calibrated to be not quite fun enough. Titus is trapped in an endless cycle of feeling apathetic, using his feed to stave off apathy, feeling unsatisfied, and feeling apathetic once again.
Through writing about his characters’ apathy and discontentment, however, Anderson implicitly suggests what real happiness might look like. First and foremost, real happiness takes time and effort—two things that are utterly foreign to Titus and his friends. The book shows that people tend to enjoy things most when they have to expend some amount of energy to achieve them. Throughout the book, Titus is never happier than when he is pursuing different forms of pleasure, and never more restless than when he uses his feed to achieve instant pleasure. Even when they’re trapped in the hospital without access to the feed, Titus and Violet find ways of entertaining themselves, first by inventing games and later by going for walks, talking about their families, and kissing. He savors his time with Violet instead of thinking ahead to what his next source of pleasure will be. By foregoing instant gratification in this way, Titus ends up having what he describes as one of the most fulfilling days of his life. Anderson leaves the ending of Feed ambiguous, but he suggests that Titus may be ready to abandon his apathy and his addiction to instant gratification for good. In either case, the novel paints a disturbing picture of a society in which people’s attention spans have gotten so short that they’re unwilling to lift a finger to entertain themselves, and as a result have become almost completely incapable of feeling true happiness or satisfaction.
Apathy, Happiness, and Satisfaction ThemeTracker
Apathy, Happiness, and Satisfaction Quotes in Feed
"He was beaten to death at the club. We saw it. The police, remember? They beat him over the head."
She reached out and took my arm.
My father walked toward us across the pavement, waving. The plastic flags were flapping in the artificial wind while Muzak came out of heaven.
I bought the Dodge.
She said she had a theory that everything was better if you delayed it. She had this whole thing about self-control, okay, and the importance of self-control. For example, she said, when she bought something, she wouldn't let herself order it for a long time. Then she would just go to the purchase site and show it to herself. Then she'd let herself get fed the sense-sim, you know, she'd let herself know how it would feel, or what it would smell like. Then she would go away and wouldn't look for a week.
Violet was screaming, "Look at us! You don't hate the feed! You are feed! You're feed! You're being eaten! You're raised for food! Look at what you've made yourselves!" She pointed at Quendy, and went, "She’s a monster! A monster!"
You are such a shithead. You don't know what happened to me this morning. And the news. Titus—this morning . . I can't believe in the middle of all this, you went and got malfunctioned. You are such an asshole and a shithead.
"It's almost time for foosball. It will be a gala. Go along, little child. Go back and hang with the eloi."
"What are the eloi?"
"It's a reference," he said, snotty. "It's from The Time Machine. H. G. Wells."
I stepped closer to him. "What does it mean?" I asked. "Because I'm sick of—"
"I'm sick of being told I'm stupid."
"So read it, and you'll know."
"It's about this meg normal guy, who doesn't think about anything until one wacky day, when he meets a dissident with a heart of gold." I said, "Set against the backdrop of America in its final days, it's the high-spirited story of their love together, it's laugh-out-loud funny, really heartwarming, and a visual feast." I picked up her hand and held it to my lips. I whispered to her fingers. "Together, the two crazy kids grow, have madcap escapades, and learn an important lesson about love. They learn to resist the feed. Rated PG-13. For language," I whispered, "and mild sexual situations."
I sat in her room, by her side, and she stared at the ceiling. I held her hand. On a screen, her heart was barely beating.
I could see my face, crying, in her blank eye.