Editor's note: This piece was originally published by our sister paper The Stranger in Seattle.
People Who Matter In East Coast Media and my social-media feed have made it very clear that we all must set aside a couple days to read Anna Wiener's Uncanny Valley, a memoir about a young woman who flees the burning ship of the New York publishing industry for the million lifting boats of San Francisco's start-up world. In this case, the People Who Matter are not wrong.
Wiener takes an anthropological approach to her three-year stint in tech, cataloging with scientific detail the habits and fashions of the twentysomething gold-rushers and the thirtysomething corporate warriors who descended on the Bay Area to optimize the living fuck out of their lives.
As a Seattle reader, her characterizations of that process aren't uncanny, they're nearly exact. I mean, read this description of San Francisco and try not to think of Seattle (or New Orleans, or parts of Detroit for that matter): "The city, trapped in nostalgia for its own mythology, stuck in a hallucination of a halcyon past, had not quite caught up to the newfound momentum of tech's dark triad: capital, power, and a bland, overcorrected, heterosexual masculinity." Just to drive this point home: One of her coworkers abbreviated the Mission District to "the Mish" in the same way Seattle tech bros abbreviated Capitol Hill to "Cap Hill" without asking a single soul for permission.
Wiener's perspective as an outsider's insider makes her sellout narrative feel fresh. She humanizes people who seem—to the cynical observer—to want to become drones, and she wrestles with her own slide into that lifestyle with the candor and philosophical complexity you'd expect from someone who has published in well-respected magazines. But that perspective also importantly allows her to see right through the intoxicating mists of tech optimism and describe the real power these young entrepreneurs used to wield and (though it's kind of changing now) still do. Suffice it to say that after 50 pages, you'll want to throw your computer and your phone and your Amazonian spyware out the window.