Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
At twenty five, Anna Wiener quit her job as an assistant in New York publishing for the gold rush of Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurial start-ups were filled with optimism and a sense of possibility. A new style of workplace culture offered onsite yoga, cafés, matching branded hoodies, and equity shares. Wiener was able to earn a healthy income for the first time in her career.
Silicon Valley was filled with CEOs in their twenties who were seeded by investors to fulfil the promise of new apps and ideals. Perceptions of work in the Valley changed from a transaction of labour to a ‘lifestyle’. Extended working hours became proof of commitment and loyalty, even as corporate loneliness and the threat of burnout began to rise.
Uncanny Valley is a coming-of-age memoir set in gentrifying San Francisco. Wiener questions her values and changing identity as her optimism in the tech industry starts to decay. She explores the tech sector’s growing burden of responsibility regarding companies’ unrestricted access to personal data and monitoring of what’s appropriate for social media, examining how these companies attempt to navigate the complexities of ‘free speech’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in delving into these issues in an industry where free services and apps are seen as a fair exchange for certain kinds of exploitation, Wiener also finds similarities between state surveillance and advertising technology, ultimately painting a bleak picture of the future.
Being a nontechnical woman in a technology field meant Wiener was constantly determining whether it was worth picking battles against sexism, misogyny and objectification. Working in a male-dominated field that verbally stressed the importance of hiring more women, she was struck by the widespread failure in the industry to implement any changes to hiring practices or work culture.
Uncanny Valley offers first-hand knowledge of the growing tech field from a woman’s perspective. In an age of scrolling addiction, this assessment of the other side of the internet is both illuminating and frightening.