Interviews

The Feed Author Nick Clark Windo: Social Media Alters Your Brain

 

Photo © James Eckersley

In the not so distant future of author Nick Clark Windo’s The Feed, society falls apart after a neural network hardwired into the brain of every human being unexpectedly collapses. Without instant access to the world’s accumulated knowledge, the survivors are thrust into a new, dangerous world in which they must survive on their own.

We spoke with Windo about the novel and what it says about our evolving relationship with technology.

Unbound Worlds: Science fiction has long functioned as a critical mirror on technology and society as a whole. You seemed to have had the internet in your sights when you wrote The Feed. Am I correct? What are your thoughts on the internet and how we use it? Social media? Are these things a necessary evil for you as a modern creative?

Nick Clark Windo: Hi Matt, thanks for having me here. So, I’m not really sure whether I had my sights on the internet, or whether the internet has its sights on me…or us, these days. And that’s definitely a core part of the novel. Technology is merely a tool, but it’s a tool that changes us — not just socially (though we’re living in very interesting times at the moment there) but physically too. Using social media, for example, actually changes the physical make-up of the brain: it changes how we process information and that, in turn, changes the sort of information we look for. Not necessarily in an evil way but, yes, having given myself Twitter-induced insomnia I’m worried that it’s all going a bit unchecked at the moment…

UW: There’s a sort of horror/suspense element to the novel that I wanted to explore. Characters have to worry about their loved ones being taken over by some kind of evil entity as they sleep. While I don’t want to push the idea of The Feed as a criticism of the net too hard, I see some parallels between being taken over in this way and being radicalized by online content. Thoughts?

NCW: That’s really interesting, and I can see those parallels too. And there is an element of radicalization in the novel (thank you for not spoiling!), but I was always determined to present an ambivalent view of technology; rather, to flag up its positives as well as its negatives. Because I’d not only be a luddite if I said tech was bad, I’d be patently wrong. It’s amazing. It’s a huge social leveler, it allows us to share so much knowledge and creativity — it’s great! But there is the question of whether we control it or it controls us. I think you guys in the States invented the phrase “wag the dog”?

In terms of the horror-suspense element of the novel, I think that comes from all the genre novels and films and TV I’ve consumed over the years. Because entertainment’s there to, well, entertain isn’t it? No matter what other concerns a novel might have if it’s not gripping, surprising and dramatic…well it’s not doing its job. If there aren’t characters who you relate to, others you think you can trust and plots twists you just don’t see coming, it’s just not fun. So that thriller aspect is there to, I hope, give the novel drive so some of the other things we’re talking about can come along for the ride.

UW: In your book, people are fused with technology: Their brains are hardwired for the Feed from a very young age. When I look at how closely most of us keep our smart phones, I have to wonder if we’re that far away from something similar. Are we?

NCW: Well, I’ve never worked out whether I’m an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist. Either way, it feels like we’re close to that doesn’t it? And that we haven’t discussed as a society how that would change things. I mean, it feels like we’re playing around with the nature of what it means to be human and once that’s done it can’t be undone. So the novel is definitely aiming to be part of that conversation. It could be really exciting. And, of course, it could be terrifying; that’s the world of The Feed. You know there’s an “Alternative History’”literary genre? I’m really hoping this is an “Alternative Future” one!

UW: I do most of my work online, and without an internet connection, I don’t have a job. I’m wondering to what extent do you think we’re defined or made whole by our technology? Is it shaping us in ways we don’t quite understand yet?

NCW: Absolutely it is. We’re seeing a lot of things play out in terms of technology and politics at the moment, of course. But The Feed is focused more on what tech means on a physiological and neurological level. I’m like you: I thrive on an internet connection. But I’ve also started to notice how being wired in for too long makes me feel, how it makes me interact with people, how it’s starting to erode my capacity to think deep … and I don’t think I’m alone here. Just to be clear, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing per se, but you hit the nail on the head there: what interests me is that it’s affecting us in ways we don’t quite understand yet. That’s an interesting world to explore.

UW: You might not be able to talk about this much, but I understand that there’s a television program based on The Feed somewhere on the horizon. What can you tell us about it?

NCW: There is indeed, and it’s about to start shooting very soon. It’s a co-production between Amazon, All 3 Media, and Liberty Global, and its show-runner is Channing Powell, one of the Writer/Execs on “The Walking Dead”. To say I am excited is an understatement of epic proportions! The first series is based on the first 15 pages of the book. Obviously something big happens at the end of page 15, for people who haven’t read it yet; but before that there’s a very big world that’s being explored over 10 episodes…the rest of the novel, hopefully, to follow in future series. It’s a long shoot, though, so there’s plenty of time for people to read and enjoy the novel first!

 

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