In novel ‘Followers,’ Megan Angelo imagines our scary social media future – and present

Megan Angelo’s debut novel, “Followers” (Graydon House, 384 pp., ★★★ out of four stars), challenges the way our sense of worth is wrapped up in online personas. A former contributing editor to Glamour, Angelo gives readers an insider’s peek into how industries conspire to create celebrities and keep them in the news, creating an endless, mutually beneficial cycle between celebrity and media.

“Followers” is an engaging confection wrapped around a thoughtful critique of how we live our lives online, and how we value others based on their curated personas.

Angelo alternates between two stories and time periods. In 2051, Marlow lives in Constellation, California, a strictly controlled environment and government-created, 24-hour-per-day online reality show. In 2015, Orla is a wannabe novelist and celebrity blogger at the website Lady-ish, struggling to earn hits and likes on her stories so she can pay the bills.

"Followers," by Megan Angelo.

Marlow is heavily medicated to keep her emotions at bay, and every bit of her life is choreographed. In this future, people wear devices that put the internet directly into their minds. Marlow is guided by producers and writers who “never spoke to the talent out loud, but they were constantly in Marlow’s head, bossing her through her device. They let her choose things for herself, but they also closed off plenty of options.”

Meanwhile, in 2015, Orla meets her meal ticket when a mysterious new roommate, Floss, pursues celebrity and convinces the writer to help her rise to stardom. Floss “wanted to be what she already was, even if nobody knew it yet: a celebrity. A person exaggerated.” Orla’s job as a celebrity blogger makes that easy. When she authors a couple of articles about Floss’ attachment to various stars and brands, Floss’ brand skyrockets by association and elevates Orla, too.

Both storylines allude to a mysterious, technology-based disaster called “The Spill” that occurs sometime between 2015 and 2051 and changes how people use technology and share information. As the story progresses, the full scope of “The Spill” becomes more clear. The narratives converge, and while “The Spill” shows the dire implications of our dependence on technology, it is Angelo’s acute awareness of our dependence on other people’s likes that is most prescient.

Author Megan Angelo.

Angelo creates a future that has plausibly evolved from the present. In 2051, Marlow performs her life in front of an audience – one that she is contractually obligated to ignore. “They liked to feel like voyeurs,” she says as she reads their comments about her every move. “They didn’t want to be looked in the eye.” 

“There aren’t actually heroes or victims or villains,” Floss observes near the end of the story. “Not in our story, and probably not in anyone else’s. I know you know this deep down: it’s all in the edit.” Whether we are doing the editing, or it’s being done for us, Angelo shows us that lives get consumed by our obsession with being seen. 

More book reviews: Technology takes over in Joanna Kavenna’s distressingly dystopian ‘Zed’

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