Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Unidentified

Although at first The Unidentified by Rae Mariz seemed like science fiction, I soon realized that this dystopian novel is hauntingly prophetic. Set in the near future, the story profiles a scenario where public schools have failed and big business is now in charge of education. High-surveillance schools are located in converted shopping malls, and students participate in the Game, a mulitmedia experience which is a combination of learning and entertainment. Students are required to carry mobile devices while they are playing, and they are constantly monitored by sponsors who are looking for new trends and opportunities to exploit them. Coincidentally, at the same time I was reading the novel, the Wall Street Journal published an article, "Your Apps are Watching You," by Scott Thurm and Ukari Iwatani Kane, which suggests that people's smart phones are sharing their personal data widely and regularly. Out of 101 apps, games and software applications for mobile phones, that they examined, 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies, which allows tracking companies to find the age, gender and location of the user. Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association is quoted as saying, "In the world of mobile there is no anonymity. "

Oddly enough, in the novel students are seeking the attention of advertising agencies in the hopes of being "branded." Branding is somewhat like being sponsored in that students get free products and are invited to exclusive events. Students who set fashion trends or achieve the highest scores in games are branded, thus insuring their popularity and assisting the corporations in advertising their products. The cell phones kids carry include GPS trackers, and they continuously post updates to profile pages, so that administrators and corporate sponsors can monitor their every move. Unlike her classmates, the main character, Katey "Kid" Dade, is an aspiring musician who prefers to fly under the radar. Then Kid witnesses a mock suicide staged by a group of students, calling themselves the Unidentified, who are challenging students to think for themselves. She begins to search for the underground movement's members and comes to the attention of an online-security company that brands her for being a "trendspotter." This alienates Kid's best friend who has been desperately trying to be branded herself. As Kid attempts to adjust to her new popularity, she experiences betrayals by lifelong friends and new relationships with people who previously ignored her. The deeper she gets into her investigation, the more she begins to question the societal structure around her.

The Unidentified suggests what the future might be like for today's technology dependent society and will make readers think critically about their use of Facebook and Twitter. Although I would recommend it for fans of Scott Westerfeld's Extras, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother and Suzanne Collins Hunger Games, I think it will appeal to a wider audience as well.

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