‘Uncanny Valley’ and the Meaninglessness of Writing About Tech

Like/dislike, love/hate, inside/outdoors: Wiener’s formulations attain for rigor, for some deep reality about knowability, however find yourself wimping out. She begins arguments she will be able to’t end, not solely with herself however along with her new colleagues. She’s stunned at any time when one-on-one interactions admit of nuances disallowed by her standard-issue assumptions. Billionaires are unhealthy, besides the one who befriends her. Tech bros assume the identical method, besides her roboticist boyfriend. Maybe these conflicts are supposed to echo the Bay Space itself, a land so riven by self-contradiction it’s on the verge of religious collapse, however the conclusion remains to be unenlightening. Was Didion ever so flimsy or indulgent? Her moralities have been nonnegotiable. Wiener, perfecting that New York–nourished millennial mode, can’t discover new which means, solely proof, in all places, of meaninglessness.

To remain sane as everybody round her drinks the Kool-Help (or butter espresso), Wiener by no means relinquishes her outsider standing. As a substitute, she tells herself she’s making good on her school diploma and doing sociology—tech as her laboratory. Right here could be the supply of the wrestle. Although she lives contained in the glass cage, she walks round it as if from the opposite facet, mistaking reflections for embodied actuality. She’s dominated by appearances, by trying and seeing. Observing the ruggedly dressed workforce: “They appeared prepared to assemble kindling and construct a lean-to … They appeared in costume to LARP their weekend selves.” Observing commuters: “They appeared drained, resigned, sheepish. Principally, they checked out their telephones.” Observing businessfolk within the Monetary District: “They appeared a lot older than we did … They appeared straight out of one other period, just like the nineties.” No quantity of taking a look at one thing, alas, makes it come alive. (Until you’re on medication. Which Wiener is, at one level. You’re comfortable for her.)

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener | Buy on Amazon

Courtesy of FSG

What makes this all of the extra irritating is that Wiener can write an immaculate sentence. Just like the very first one, an on the spot traditional: “Relying on whom you ask, it was both the apex, the inflection level, or the start of the tip for Silicon Valley’s startup scene—what cynics known as a bubble, optimists known as the long run, and my future coworkers, excessive on the fumes of world-historical potential, breathlessly known as the ecosystem.” Rhythmical, urbane, and have a look at that stunning “whom”! (Excessive on her personal fumes, although, she lets the difficult pronoun outline her, utilizing it within the ebook at the very least 15 occasions.) In sections on the ephemerality of software program, the exigencies of telecommuting, and thought-trends in tech—rationalism, city-building, UBI—Wiener’s well-honed phrases pierce by the standard chatter.

She’s additionally a grasp of the descriptive arts. A scorching tub at a spa-themed social gathering turns into “a sous vide tub of genitalia.” Stylish sneakers she buys however by no means wears are a “monument to the tip of sensuousness.” Jeff Bezos is a “chelonian ex–hedge funder.” She by no means really names Bezos. The truth is, she makes use of only a few correct nouns. Other than the occasional first identify of a pal, each character or firm, those she’s labored for in addition to those all people is aware of, is glossed with a pithy phrase. The coy ploy, in subversive deference to NDA tradition, ranges from efficient (“the social community all people hated”—Fb) to distracting (“a computer-animation studio well-known for its high-end youngsters’s leisure”—Pixar?).

Sentence-level thrives by no means add as much as text-level sophistication, although. Nor do they make this memoir literary, a descriptor Wiener is clearly chasing. Past Didion, Wiener’s different main affect appears to be Ellen Ullman. Ullman, who fell into programming within the late ’70s and stayed at it for 20 years, wrote a masterpiece of a memoir known as Near the Machine. Simply because they’re each girls in tech doesn’t validate the comparability, in fact, however Wiener actively invitations it. She profiled Ullman for The New Republic in 2016, saying that she learn Near the Machine for the primary time at 25, the identical 12 months she moved to San Francisco. Right here is considered one of Ullman’s extra startling passages, speaking a couple of man she dated:

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