Books

Uncanny Valley

Another entry in the glut of books about tech-world malfeasance

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In 2013, Anna Wiener quit her coffee-fetching job in publishing to work in Silicon Valley. Seven years later, that choice brings us another entry in the glut of books about tech-world malfeasance.

Wiener's memoir, Uncanny Valley, dips into gender studies ("my job had placed me, a self-identified feminist, in a position of ceaseless, professionalized deference to the male ego") and touches on founders' self-centeredness ("baby tyrants…one-hit wonders who had dropped out of school and become their own bosses and thought they knew how the world worked").

But Wiener was too junior to have a full view of the world about which she purports to offer a sweeping indictment. She worked in relatively low-level customer support roles with little prior experience yet got a hefty payday at the end, cashing out stock options for $200,000. She made out fine and couldn't see the whole map, but she doesn't let that stand in the way of her conclusion that Silicon Valley's tech titans are making our world worse.

Wiener is at her best when she grapples with Edward Snowden's whistleblowing and her own startup's metadata collection: "We didn't think of ourselves as participating in the surveillance economy. We weren't thinking about our role in facilitating and normalizing the creation of unregulated, privately held databases on human behavior."

In interviews about Uncanny Valley, Wiener paraphrases a CEO: "Silicon Valley is a culture focused on doing, not reflecting or thinking." Her book is afflicted with the same malady. Still, the result is compellingly readable. Credit that to rubber-necking or to the strength of Wiener's writing, even if she doesn't offer much in the way of novelty.

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  1. Low level job , no experience and cases out with 200 K. What a dick this wiener is.

  2. A “compellingly readable” book receives a brief and largely dismissive review. How can a “compellingly readable” book have, in effect, nothing substantive to say? Is there anything Liz Wolfe wouldn’t find “compellingly readable”, or is she just furnishing a blurb?

    1. I think “compellingly readable” is (a) review-speak for a page-turner, and (b) one of those trick phrases reviewers throw in to be quoted on dust jackets. You know, just as “I wouldn’t recommend this book to God for the burn pile” turns into “Recommend this book to God”.

    2. “Credit that to rubber-necking or to the strength of Wiener’s writing”

      In other words, the book is a train wreck. It’s awful, you know it’s awful, but once you look, you can’t look away.

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  4. nobody asked her out?

    1. Unless she shattered mirrors, she got asked out.

      Tech dweebs are among the loneliest and desperate beta-males in existence.

      1. Yeah, but they are rich, lonely, desperate, beta-males.

  5. ‘”We weren’t thinking about our role in facilitating and normalizing the creation of unregulated, privately held databases on human behavior.”‘

    uhhhh what’s the problem?? PRIVATELY held means it isn’t government, and only government is evil or capable of surveilling, tracking & coercing anyone. what exactly is the problem here??

  6. Yes, yes, she shows insufficient respect to our tech overlords. She must be branded with a scarlet R!

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