What would you sacrifice for the good of your brain? This is a question Kate contemplates ‘spraying’ to her 200 million followers in a poll carried out on the Feed. Any platform that allows you in a matter of milliseconds to field a public opinion survey to millions is a powerful tool. And dangerous, as the characters of Nick Clark Windo’s The Feed soon discover.
The Finsbury Park resident’s debut novel depicts multiple dystopias – an era of hyper-wired interconnectivity followed post-apocalyptic visions of the world otherwise. Dystopia No 1 is the era of ‘the Feed’ – a souped-up version of Facebook or Twitter that allows people to read each other’s minds, emotions and memory bundles (‘mundles’).
The Feed has so embedded it in people’s lives that they rarely talk to each other anymore in ‘the real’ and have lost the need to retain knowledge. When their Feed is on, they are connected at lightning speed to vast amounts of information and millions of people; for all but a small number of Resisters, the information rush is addictively attractive.
But the Feed and the world it inhabits collapses suddenly and catastrophically.
Fast-forward to dystopia No 2, a world of few and desperate people, eking out a living on home-gown food and tins left over from the previous world, struggling to relearn lost knowledge and fighting off memories of the past only partially retained by their tech-deformed brains. The narrative evolves from there in this onion-like novel where appearances and reality shift and change.
The ideas in The Feed evolved alongside technology in the real world, as Windo tells Islington Citizen: “From pen-to-paper on The Feed to its publication was just over five years.
“A lot of the ideas had been in my head for a long time before that, though. The rate of technological change is so rapid at the moment that, yes, it was fun to think, ‘Ooh, that’s new…I wonder how that might have developed in the future?’.
“At the same time, that rapid development is sobering. I was well into redrafting the novel when Elon Musk announced his neural lace, which sounds rather Feed-like. We’re living in an age when speculative fiction can feel dangerously close to reality.”
The lead character in this eerily prescient novel is a whistleblower who ‘shattered consumer confidence in the company because [he] revealed to the public that their Feeds could be hacked’.
Asked what bearing the worlds he has have depicted have on our current attempts to grapple with data storage and data sharing, Windo says: “Crime develops with technology, as does exploitation of its users; that seems to be a constant over the last millennia and it’s difficult to see how it would stop.
“Maybe I’m a pessimist, but is anyone really surprised by the current revelations? I don’t want to sound all bleak about things – there are life-changing wonderful positives about technology. And I think readers will find hope and beauty in The Feed.
“But I feel we do need to be more active as a society in specifying how technology fits into our future: looking to windward and protecting against things. Because it’s not just the makeup of our society that technology is altering, it’s affecting the physical makeup of our brains.
“Listen, there’s a lot in The Feed that I sincerely hope isn’t a prediction of things to come! It does make for compelling drama, though.”
So has the London metropolitan elite become too intellectually dependent on social media for the concepts they use to make sense of the world? Windo says: “There seems to be a lot of communication without substance at the moment: reactions more than considered responses. And is that as a result of social media? Probably. That’s certainly one of the themes in the novel.
“Also questioned is what actually does ‘the world’ mean anymore? If people are spending the majority of their existence online, isn’t that their world? And is that necessarily wrong? I don’t know. I do know that living in the city we can easily and unfortunately forget what the majority of the planet is about: mountains, seas, expanses of inhospitable terrain.
“We often forget everything that is humbling about the world, and perhaps as a result feel a bit more in control of things than we ought…”
The Feed by Nick Clark Windo is published by Headline Publishing. ISBN: 978 1 4722 4190 0; RRP £16.99: The novel is stocked by the author’s local bookshop Ink@84, 84 Highbury Park, Highbury East, London N5 2XE