Harvard Book Store welcomes New Yorker contributing writer ANNA WIENER for a discussion of her debut memoir, Uncanny Valley.
In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener—stuck, broke, 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 amidst 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, one that enriched itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building.
Part coming-age-story, part portrait of an already-bygone era, Anna Wiener’s memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into 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.
Unsparing and incisive, Uncanny Valley is a cautionary tale, and a revelatory interrogation of a world reckoning with consequences its unwitting designers are only beginning to understand.
“I’ve never read anything like Uncanny Valley, which is both a searching bird’s-eye study of an industry and a generation, as well as an intimate, microscopic portrait of ambition and hope and dread. Anna Wiener writes about the promise and the decay of Silicon Valley with the impossibly pleasurable combination of a precise, razored intellect and a soft, incandescent heart. Her memoir is diagnostic and exhilarating, a definitive document of a world in transition: I won’t be alone in returning to it for clarity and consolation for many years to come.” ―Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
“A rare mix of acute, funny, up-to-the-minute social observation, dead-serious contemplation of the tech industry’s annexation of our lives, and a sincere first-person search for meaningful work and connection. How does an unworn pair of plain sneakers ‘become a monument to the end of sensuousness’? Read on.” ―William Finnegan, author of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
“Uncanny Valley is an addictive combination of coming-of-age story, journalistic memoir, and brilliant social critique. This is a stunningly good book. I loved it.” —Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.