Stuck inside, days blending together, time practically slipping through our fingers, it is technology that we cling to during this unprecedented period. Our reality is grounded with technology. It allows us to remain connected to the outside world. And though it’s true technology has become one of the most invaluable tools right now, this increased dependency has made us overlook the dangers of technology, the dangers that are explored in Megan Angelo’s debut novel, “Followers.”
With an extremely relevant look into our learned reliance on technology, Angelo makes you rethink your online presence — so much so that I now feel particularly paranoid when I find myself checking my Instagram feed and updating my Twitter timeline more than I ever have before.
Angelo tells the story in two timelines: one set in 2015 with ambitious blogger Orla, who is stuck working as an inglorious reporter for a gossip magazine, and the other set in 2051 with celebrity Marlow, whose entire life has been broadcasted 24/7 for the rest of the world to watch. Angelo alternates between these storylines, dropping hints to what has caused this distinct evolution of technology and transformation of American life known as the “Spill.”
Orla strives to do something more with her life. She dreams of writing the novel that drove her to move to New York in the first place, but instead finds herself devoting the majority of her time to writing frivolous magazine articles on uprising influencers. We see her frustration growing while she resides on the outskirts of celebrity life, until her roommate, Floss, invents a scheme that will place both of them in the limelight of fame. Floss is desperate to be known, and Orla is desperate to transform her life, so together, the two capitalize on Orla’s position writing for the blog, Lady-ish, to propel Floss to stardom.Tired of being nobodies, they convince the world that Floss is somebody.
Marlow, on the other hand, has been a beloved celebrity since birth but is now growing suspicious of her fans’ adoration. Marlow lives by the stage cues of the Constellation Network that orchestrates the lives of all its contributors, deciding everything from the clothes they wear to the food they eat. Only one hour every day, from three to four a.m., is not broadcasted to Marlow’s 12 million followers. But despite her large following, she wonders why she feels so alone. This curiosity is only encouraged by the questions that arise in Marlow’s path, the inexplicability that develops as she learns more about her own past and the past of American society that the Constellation Network has kept secret from her for so long.
Having grown up in Constellation, California, all that Marlow knows is what the Constellation Network has told her. In her future state, she is aware of the Spill, but is unfamiliar with specific details. Any questions or conversations Marlow has about the Spill are quickly suppressed by the network, which only piques her interest more. She wants answers that she is not getting, so as she has done all her life on camera, Marlow decides to act.
It was harrowing to witness the extent to which technology influences both dystopian societies, despite 2015 being very much grounded in present-day circumstances. That is what made the modern setting of the book so striking — the fact that the majority of the events that occur could actually happen; as Orla and Floss manipulate social media for their benefit, the feasibility of a modern dystopia revealed itself, and to be living in a time where we spend our days glued to our devices, I quickly became paranoid as I wondered about what opportunities this increased reliance on technology presented for ambitious manipulators, hackers and even just bored quarantined scrollers, all of whom have too much time on their hands.
My paranoia eased when I read from Marlow’s perspective in 2051. This world didn’t feel as real (and at times, was difficult for me to visualize at all), given the futuristic additions of robots and disturbing devices everyone had implemented in their wrists. These devices connect to the host’s brain, reminding me of Siri, or Amazon’s Alexa, only in your head rather than your device. Marlow can think of any question and the device responds to her as if it were her own thought. The devices ruled out the need for technology like cell-phones and computers, given the perpetual availability of knowledge in one’s own mind.
But though my paranoia had passed its peak, that is not to say I am not thoroughly creeped out. I am already disturbed to find advertisements of products on my social media timeline that I had previously mentioned in passing, nevertheless actually searched, so I could not imagine having an even more powerful device linked directly to my inner thoughts.
Nevertheless, I found the alarming presence of technology to be one of the most interesting aspects of the book. But, as I was reading to discover more about the “Spill” that led to the eradication of modern technology and the imminent innovation of the devices in 2051, I found myself getting lost in the superfluous details Angelo includes about the regular lives of Orla and Marlow. Angelo neglects to really characterize either of their personalities and as a result, their personal stories never really captivated me. Maybe they were just boring.
There was incredible content for Angelo to run with, had she narrowed focus on the manipulation of technology by these characters, but instead, she focused on rather irrelevant details of the characters’ lives that slowed the progression of the novel. Orla was too caught up talking about her highschool crush, whose role was completely unimportant to the storyline by the time he was introduced; Floss was characterized to have an incredibly strange backstory we never got to hear; Marlow was written too placidly. Excitement seemed to run away from her.
While the applicability of the problematic technological usage made the book relevant, the unfulfilled characterization and dull, redundant backstories made the book feel a lot longer than it actually was. If Angelo would have focused on the dystopian effects of technology and taken more of the “Black Mirror” route with the presence and infiltration of our devices, the book would have been far more gripping. The commentary on our reliance on our phones and computers is stirring, but the overall book was not as enthralling as it had promised to be.