Chapters: normal–sniffling

Summary: normal

Back on Earth, life returns to normal for Titus and his friends as they resume their feed-centric lives. At Titus’s home, his younger brother (called “Smell Factor”) plays with metallic birds that are popular. Titus describes his everyday scenes, including upcars that travel in tubes, vertically stacked suburbs with names such as Apple Crest and Fox Hollow, and homes that exist in their own pods. Titus visits Violet at a mall and then invites her to a party, which prompts her to ask what it will be like. Violet then reveals that she’s been home-schooled and, relative to Titus, has lived a more sheltered life. After Titus flies through “Clouds™” in his parents’ upcar, he sees weather blimps and likens them to a herd of animals. Violet questions whether things will be different after their hack, but Titus simply says it is good to have people in his head again. 

Summary: undervalued truffle

Titus and Violet attend the party, where Marty and Link are playing a violent gamefeed as others watch Snowblind, a feedcast with a far-fetched yet clichéd plot. Quendy is upset and jealous that Calista and Link are dating. Quendy hints that she and Link recently had sex and then tells Titus that Calista thinks Violet is arrogant, just as Violet uses a fancy word in a conversation with Calista. Titus sees additional confirmation that everything is back to normal when he hears random and vapid comments at the party about truffles being undervalued and about a boy who never throws up when he overdrinks alcohol. The chapter ends with feed chatter: In a somewhat jumbled and inarticulate speech, President Trumbull says the American people are smart enough not to believe “corporate ‘watch’ organizations,” and that reports that toxic industries are causing lesions are false.

Summary: the others in mal

At the party, Violet doesn’t laugh at the feedcast Snowblind, which confuses Titus. Marty and Link malfunction, or fall into a drug-like stupor, via the site Bulb-tweaker. Titus passes on joining them and reminds his friends about the hack, but they aren’t concerned and just want to malfunction, which proves to be intense: they quiver, and Link’s tongue comes out. Outside on the porch, Titus later asks Violet why she didn’t like Snowblind, to which she says she did like the mountains in it and that she wants to visit the country. Titus plays Violet his memories from earlier and the two discuss how everyone else seems to have forgotten about the hack. Violet then tells Titus that her feedware is now damaged from the event. Within the party house’s weather-controlled pod, amid a synthetic breeze, Violet tells Titus to keep thinking and that their brains still exist deep inside of them.

Summary: nudging

Titus dreams, but later suspects he has hacked, where he is shown a lizard. The chapter ends with feed chatter about older people recalling earlier days when the environment was healthy.

Summary: lose the chemise

Titus and Violet meet at a mall where they laugh about people’s purchases, including dog massagers and tooth extensions. Violet shows off her lesion, now that stars of Oh? Wow! Thing! are showing off their own. Violet tells Titus that corporations only care about making people want to consume and, driven by profits, are reducing people into simplified personality types. As an act of resistance, Violet determines to create a completely confusing customer profile that can’t be marketed to. The two then go into stores and ask to see random products such as searchlights, home endoscopy kits, and dresses for Titus, joking that the chemise dress they bought him last week was a mistake. Titus agrees to continue to resist. Violet reveals that her father didn’t have enough money to visit the hospital and that he saved for a year to send her to the moon.

Summary: sniffling

Titus chats Violet, who is crying. She changes the subject and forwards messages from a FeedTech shopping assistant, who encourages her to buy things, and the many sites she received after they went shopping.

Analysis: Chapters: normal–sniffling

The title “normal” is both a fitting and ironic for the first chapter in the third part of feed, “utopia.” As the teenagers return to Earth, Titus says life continues as it always has for them. For Titus and his friends, this includes comfortable, upper-class lives in vertically stacked suburbs with names like Apple Crest and Fox Hollow that, readers can assume, are named after large corporations that exist in our own modern world and/or are themselves ironically named, given that these suburbs have entirely replaced nature. Titus even flies his parents’ upcar through artificial “Clouds™,” an image that he compares to herds of animals, in a scene that provides another example of how the manufactured world has usurped the natural. Despite Titus’s initial claim of normality, though, readers may wonder how “normal” this world is, where even clouds are manufactured and monetized, and houses exist in their own weather-controlled pods that generate synthetic breezes. 

Prompted by Violet, Titus begins asking himself similar questions, or at least starts to see his world in a different way. Although he at first tells Violet in “normal” that it’s good to have people, meaning the feed, in his head again, at a party in “undervalued truffle” he begins to see flaws in his feed-centric world. Link and Marty play a violent gamefeed, Quendy gossips about Calista, others watch a vapid feedcast called Snowblind with blank eyes, and Titus overhears hollow banter about truffles and chugalugging. “It was just a party. Nothing but a party,” he says. And that’s precisely the problem: Although warning signs abound, including the hacker’s ominous message that the world has entered a time of calamity, Titus’s friends simply want to return to “normal,” that is, close their eyes, live in ignorance, and resume their figurative party where everything is fun, and nothing is wrong with the world. Link and Marty even take their escape to the next level and malfunction via the site Bulb-tweaker. It’s telling, though, that Titus reminds them of the hack before they do and opts against joining them. 

As Titus begins to see his world more clearly, so do the readers of feed: Feed chatter at the end of “undervalued truffle” focuses on a speech from U.S. President Trumbull who says that reports from “corporate ‘watch’ organizations” claiming toxic industries are causing lesions are false. His speech is significant for several reasons. First, it is filled with poor grammar and odd word choices such as “plain hooey,” revealing that in a dumbed-down society where most people don’t learn to read or write, even the President appears unintelligent and uneducated. Second, his speech hints at how connected the health of the Earth is to people’s individual health, and that both are severely suffering. Third, it shows how the President is not only in the pockets of large corporations that are causing harm, but that he is also willing to spread their propaganda. Fourth, the President’s speech reveals that despite the power of propaganda and omnipresent feeds, there are determined resisters and dissenters in the world.   

Count Violet in as both. In “the others in mal,” she sees through the hollow feedcast Snowblind, and the role it and similar shows play in lulling people into living in ignorance. Of the feedcast, Violet only tells Titus she liked its images of mountains, which shows she still sees the value of nature. In evoking the image of nested Russian dolls, she then reminds him to keep thinking and that his individuality and intelligence, however buried, still exist. And just as Violet nudges Titus to figuratively wake him up, he’s again nudged in his sleep by the hacker group the Coalition of Pity, who show him a lizard, likely now extinct and a symbol of environmental destruction, which again comes into focus in the feed chatter that concludes the chapter. Later, in “lose the chemise,” Violet’s wisdom turns to action when she determines to resist the feed by creating an unmarketable consumer profile. In her own way, Violet joins the ranks of resisters in feed that include her father, corporate watch organizations, and hacker groups, and she asks Titus if he will join her. Though Titus answers “yes,” it remains to be seen if he will.