As the lines between the Internet and reality continue to blur for those who are Very Online, it is not surprising that our identities change as a result. Followers, the recently released novel by Megan Angelo, touches on this phenomenon. In an era where journalists have become influencers, Angelo chronicles the lives of three women – Orla, Floss and Marlow – in an exploration of how we reconcile our public selves with who we truly want to be.
Orla is a writer for gossip site Lady-ish but wants more for her career, Floss is an aspiring model who grapples with pursuing her dreams or pursuing financial stability and Marlow lives her entire life on-camera in a Truman Show-esque world where stepping out of line can be detrimental to her livelihood. While each character has different goals and motivations, there is one common thread – the fact that their jobs depend largely on engagement.
In an interview with ShelfAwareness, Angelo said that the idea for Followers hinged on the idea of a future that was grounded in “the kind of thing your grandparents tell you about”. In this case, the current era of social media became the blueprint. While the women of Followers struggle to maintain their autonomy, they are also living in a world where they should be able to take the reins.
“I think that while traditionally people loved consuming gossip but valued their own privacy, we’re starting to come into more of a balance between those two things,” Angelo said. “Instagram, in particular, has given us the opportunity to cast our own lives into the light that used to be reserved for celebrities.”
A journalist herself, Angelo has been published in the New York Times, Glamour and Elle, where she has discussed parenting in the age of social media and the expectation that women, and by extension female characters, should always be “good”. In the latter article, she argues that female characters should be portrayed with more complexity rather than being designated as good or “bad girls”.
This sentiment shines through in Followers, as Orla, Floss and Marlow are depicted as more than just #girlbosses or stereotypical portrayals of female characters. They each have their own desires, which Angelo refers to in her interview.
“I love how pure and unapologetic they are in their ambition,” she said. “Orla wants to be great, Floss wants to be known and Marlow wants to be free.”
With help from some AMAZING Canadian bookstagrammers, @meganangelo's #FollowersBook took over the Instagram scene this weekend! Check out all of the posts here: https://t.co/XjibfQs5ft pic.twitter.com/8MEEoClBo7
— HarperCollinsCa (@HarperCollinsCa) January 20, 2020
Not only does Followers touch upon the evolution of the uses of social media, but it also addresses technological advances and the ethics of continuous innovation. Marlow lives in the year 2051, where everyone has a device linked to their consciousness that can convey information as well as alter thoughts. One particularly startling scene in the prologue is when Marlow is unsure of how to proceed in a situation because “[her] device will tell you what to do.” This calls to mind present-day sentiments about how much people rely upon technology and its impact on our beliefs and behaviors. Even paper has fallen out of use in the world of Angelo’s novel, and Marlow appears alarmed when she encounters it, reflecting common concerns about abandoning physical books and documents for their electronic forms.
Despite these concerns, technological advances continue.
“About six months after I sold the book, Elon Musk started talking about ‘Neuralink’ computers that would work a lot like the devices in Followers do,” Angelo commented. “You can always count on Elon Musk to back up your wildest ideas.”
Although the world that Orla, Marlow and Floss inhabit seems bleak at times – touching on student debt, the ethics of reporting on celebrities and especially celebrity deaths, and deciding whether to give up on one’s ambitions – Angelo writes in such a way that makes readers root for the three women and immerse themselves deeper into the complex world they live in. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in media, technology, and how we change as a result of these things.
Rating: 5 stars
Followers was released on January 14, 2020. You can purchase it at Bookshop or other book retailers.
Featured image via Glamour