An on-the-ground look at Silicon Valley and what its power means for the rest of the world.
To research his debut nonfiction book, investigative reporter Pein embedded in Silicon Valley to better understand the technology boom that has been underway since the mid-2000s. Alternating between his roles as a journalist and a would-be entrepreneur as it suits his purposes, he penetrates all manner of industry mainstays: hacker houses overcrowded with eager techies, corporate-sponsored meetups, competitions for startup pitches, and conferences celebrating and promoting the singularity. Seemingly everyone the author encounters in his reporting is confident that the future will be vastly different—and vastly better—than the present. Pein isn’t the first to identify the near-religious faith in technology that is so common to the Silicon Valley crowd, but his deeply unsettling portrait of it is enough to trouble even the most committed tech booster. He presents a place that, far from being a utopia of creativity and efficiency, is a lightly disguised confidence game, where valuation is a meaningless concept, incentives are frequently misaligned, and 95 percent of entrepreneurs fail, often because they don’t have the insider advantages that the veterans do. Pein identifies a “cutthroat libertarianism” at the core of the Silicon Valley worldview, which accounts for its indifference and, in some cases, hostility toward those people harmed by their practices: “Most people in the industry,” he writes, “were convinced that their work was moral because it increased consumer choice and therefore freedom. New technologies were evidence of progress and therefore innately good.” For all the social oddities he observes, cringeworthy encounters he experiences, and wit and outrage he levels at his subjects, Pein’s real achievement is his willingness to find out how Silicon Valley works and not become distracted by all its shiny objects.
A clearheaded reckoning with consequences of the tech industry’s disruptions and the ideology that undergirds it.