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For the first time in the history of the Book Jam, both Lisas read the same book at the same time without a plan to do so. We thought we'd honor that coincidence - and the current extreme relevance of the book - by devoting today's post to it. The topics examined throughout this memoir set in Silicon Valley between 2014 and 2018 - a high-stakes, often reckless culture of unchecked and unregulated ambition, extreme fortune making, and power - especially resonated after last week's events in the US Capitol and the subsequent loss of social media platforms for President Trump. So here you go, we discuss Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener. Bonus: it is new to paperback as of 05 January 2021.
Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener (2020). This is probably one of the most timely books you could pick up right now. It wasn’t even on my list as I’m not a woman in tech and don’t have any particular interest in the wheelings and dealings of Silicone Valley. In fact three years ago I stopped participating in social media platforms altogether. However, one of my younger “pod mates” tore through it over the holidays and described it as “a page turner. She passed it on to me and having now finished it, I can say that I agree. It was was one of the most provocative and affecting reads that I spent time with in 2020. Wiener brings a sharp sociologist’s eye to her memoir of the four years she spent working for start ups in Silicon Valley between 2014 and 2018. Interestingly, she started her career in New York City as a 25-year-old in the low tech, low-paying publishing industry for which she had a passion. Realizing, though, that she couldn’t live off of her family’s generosity indefinitely, she reluctantly left for San Francisco, following the gold rush mentality, the money, and the opportunity offered her generation to take a position in a technology company. The rest is history - and an insightful, literary, and atmospheric chronicle of her gradual disillusionment with the sector. She never mentions the players or the companies by name but nevertheless helps the reader to understand the mentality of this moment in time, the easy money and its effects on a city’s ecosystem, the frightening power of the data being collected, the shaky morals being exercised by decision makers, and the speed at which information is traveling unchecked around the globe. And and she doesn’t let herself off the hook either. If, after the events that unfolded in Washington last week, you are seeking a deeper understanding of how we arrived at this particular civic and technological crossroads, this should be your next read. ~Lisa Cadow
There is not a lot to add to the other Lisa's comprehensive review, other than one random thought. In this time of covid safety protocols, I found myself wondering, as I read Ms. Wiener's memoir, about the large group of twenty-somethings currently missing office camaraderie (even the dysfunctional kind teaches people), and what world changes will emerge from their unique position of holding first jobs during covid times. If their future recollections are anything like Ms. Wiener's remembrances, I look forward to reading their memoirs about their first jobs as well. Bottom line, Ms. Wiener’s memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into Silicon Valley culture, and how it grew to impact everything we do today (including the fact you are reading this review online). As another indie bookstore reviewer stated, "With wit, candor, and heart, Anna deftly charts the tech industry’s shift from self-appointed world savior to democracy-endangering liability, alongside a personal narrative of aspiration, ambivalence, and disillusionment." Pick it up if you want to gain insight into our current world. ~ Lisa Christie