Memoir/Autobiography, Nonfiction, Sociology

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

Millennials unite! This is my first millennial autobiography/memoir (I think?), and I absolutely thought I was not going to be able to relate to Anna, but I was oh so very surprised by her story, and my experience reading it.

Synopsis

From the Front Flap:
In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech-industry idealism, Anna Wiener – restless and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial – left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory, and, of course, progress.

Anna arrived during a massive cultural shift, as the tech industry rapidly transformed into a locus of wealth and power rivaling Wall Street. But amid the company ski vacations and in-office speakeasies, boyish camaraderie and ride-or-die corporate fealty, a new Silicon Valley began to emerge – one in far over its head, and enriching itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building.

Part coming-of-age story, part portrait of an already bygone era, Uncanny Valley is a rare first-person glimpse into the high-flying, reckless startup culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune, and accelerating political power. 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.

Review

Where to begin, oh where to begin. Anna’s writing is so lyrical and immersive, I felt like I was sitting right next to her in every meeting, every interview, along every step of her journey. But before that, I started this book with extreme skepticism. The only reason I was really reading it in the first place was that it comes from my favorite imprint at my favorite publisher.

Anna left my beloved world of books and publishing for me least favorite greater business entity, tech. I spent 13 months working for an education technology start up shortly after getting my teaching degree. I was feeling underappreciated by the school I was working at and was passed over for even an interview for a full teaching position and I didn’t know what else to do. I’d been freelance writing courses for teachers for an intermediate unit and the company that owned the tech I was using offered me a job. I wish I had done more research on the industry before agreeing so readily.

Anna manages to write without naming names. The tech company she left the publishing world for is not named, the people she worked for and interacted with are not named. Hers is pretty much the only named used throughout her book. I love this for a few reasons. One, it keeps her story solely hers – no one can co-opt it and Anna is in control of her own narrative. Two, the names of the company and people don’t matter – her memoir is a revealing expose of the culture and industry as a whole, the individual players don’t really matter that much.

Uncanny Valley is a work of modern feminism without being overtly so. And as a bookseller who’s livelihood has been directly threatened by tech giants from online retailers to ebooks, I came to understand why Anna made the career move she did, but also appreciate her story as a millennial who really needed to figure out who she wanted to be and how she was going to make her way in the world. And Anna’s writing is some of the best memoir writing I’ve read in a long time.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through IndieBound or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.

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