UNCANNY VALLEY by Anna Wiener
Kirkus Star

UNCANNY VALLEY

A Memoir
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A former tech worker–turned-journalist gives the inside scoop on life inside the wickedly weird and wealthy world of Silicon Valley startups.

Before Wiener took a customer support job at a San Francisco–based tech startup, she was a broke 20-something pursuing dead-end jobs in the New York publishing industry. Friends who had left the city warned her that the San Francisco they loved had been replaced by “a late capitalist hellscape” that catered to the “on-demand” whims of young techies with “plump bank accounts.” Wiener quickly learned that the tech workplace was younger, more casual, and more male-dominant than she had expected. Helping company clients, she often felt like she was one step above artificial intelligence. “I was an intelligent artifice, an empathetic text, a snippet or a warm voice, giving instructions, listening comfortingly,” she writes. Despite bouts of existential angst, within a year of moving west, Wiener moved into middle management and a work life that included a healthy salary as well as “an acronym and enterprise accounts.” Still, her salary represented a tiny fraction of the total wealth—which sometimes amounted to billions—she saw generated in the high-stakes startup world around her. As she burrowed deeper into the tech world, she saw excesses that repulsed almost as much as they excited her. Quasi-autocratic corporate cultures, including her own, demanded body-and-soul loyalty for “perks” such as ultrastylish workplace surroundings, interoffice skateboarding, luxurious company retreats, and work-at-home privileges on platforms that looked like “video game[s] for children.” Wiener also witnessed the ruthlessness of Silicon Valley’s quest to control consumer behavior through data acquisition and the way it actively promoted men while telling females to “trust karma” when it came to advancement. Equal parts bildungsroman and insider report, this book reveals not just excesses of the tech-startup landscape, but also the Faustian bargains and hidden political agendas embedded in the so-called “inspiration culture” underlying a too-powerful industry.

A funny, highly informative, and terrifying read.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-37-427801-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2019