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Uncanny Valley, A Book Review

I really enjoyed this memoir by Anna Wiener. The startup, San Francisco tech industry she writes about was often times Greek to me, but it was so interesting to read about. And, oh how I loved her style and her humor, how she took pains not to reveal the places where she worked - but with enough information to figure it out - an Oyster logo, an octopus-cat logo, the motto Data Driven imprinted on company t-shirts, and so on and so on. Hardly men, but entitled boys at the helm of these companies who become billionaires at acquisition. I enjoyed reading about something so out of my hemisphere, though I think I have a millennial and a Gen-X for sons (I still haven't figured out their specific designations, except that I know I'm a baby boomer); I've seen CoWork space so when she speaks of long pine community tables and open office floor plans, human bird feeders dispensing granola, drinking at the office and playing video games, I can imagine what she's talking about.

Anna is young, smart, and funny, and an off-the-charts good writer. It's like an experiment for her to take on jobs in the tech industry when she's more suited for the publishing world back home in NYC - but she likes, (or does she?), the hoodies and casual dress, the open office space with community desks and kitchens equipped with cold brew (coffee), and cold brews (beer), the ice-breaking work camping trips and events, and -- the pay! She comes to love San Francisco and her boyfriend, Ian (my 24-year-old millennial son's name). She witnesses the irony of well-paid tech employees who can only afford micro living spaces containing 275 s.f. , while living among the homeless and drug dependent and without being totally aware of their pain or discomfort. She comes to recognize the lack of women in the industry, especially in key positions.

Oh, to have been in my 20's in 2013-2018, living alone and starting my career in expensive San Francisco (one of my favorite cities b-t-w). Would I have been able to fit in as well as she? Would I have embraced it? Maybe? Maybe not. I'd be wearing my same navy blue interview dress, a sheath shift with bone-colored nylons, (? / not!), accessorized with pearls and heels, wanting personal office space .... with walls. :) No, I wouldn't have fit in.

Thinking about Covid-19--luckily, Anna was working remotely almost 100% of the time at her last startup position. She also emphasized that work in the tech industry was often about where you were at the time, or if you needed to work. Staff were often away from their physical HQ (headquarters) building. In one passage, Anna describes her work attire as sagging leggings, while positioning her camera away from her hanging undergarments as she worked remotely in her bedroom! Hmmm. Can't most of us relate?!

A fascinating read. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener, MCD (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)


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