This month’s book recommendation is Uncanny Valley: A Memoir, by Anna Wiener, who, as a twenty-something in 2012, left a low-paying publishing job in New York to work in the world of San Francisco tech startups. Until she moved across the country, she writes, it had never occurred to her “that I might someday become one of the people behind the internet, because I had never considered that there were people behind the internet at all.”She goes to work for company founders even younger than she is, managing millions of dollars of seed money and wearing “startup twinsets, branded hoodies unzipped to reveal T-shirts with the same logo.” Wiener’s voice is original and unforgettable: a mixture of skepticism and gullibility, of clarity and befuddlement. San Francisco is “an underdog city struggling to absorb an influx of alphas.” (Perfect.) San Franciscans, “living in neighborhoods where every other storefront had a pun in its name, were corny.” (True, alas.) Notably, Wiener declines to identify by name any of the companies she works for or near: they are, instead, “the social network everybody hated,” “an app for coupon-clipping,” “the online superstore” with the “chelonian” founder (a word I had to look up).
For more on the “uncanny valley” of the title—in tech, it refers to the dropoff in humans’ acceptance of robots when those creations’ appearance becomes eerily lifelike; in Wiener’s book, it also refers to Silicon Valley—see my December 2009 post.