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Uncanny Valley

A Memoir

By Anna Wiener
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  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

At the peak of the tech boom, Anna Wiener left a dismal professional life in New York for the modern Californian gold rush in Silicon Valley. Looking for money, stability, and social affirmation, she found an industry running on inflated valuations, gargantuan egos, toxic masculinity, and a whole lot of jargon. In Uncanny Valley (2020), you’ll follow her journey through three start-up jobs toward a more realistic valuation of herself.

Key idea 1 of 11

Anna was pursuing her dream career in publishing in New York, but after the 2008 recession, it seemed like a dead end.

Before the financial crisis in 2008, a degree from a top US university all but guaranteed a job and eventually a career. But Anna Wiener and other humanities majors were looking to break into the New York publishing world in the wake of the recession, and success was far from a sure thing.

In post-recession America, publishing held a nostalgic glamor that resonated with her milieu. In Brooklyn at the time, people talked unselfconsciously about urban homesteading, wore suspenders, and drank homemade sloe gin from Mason jars. They took analog photographs and bought replacement needles for their record players. 

Publishing was an industry that fit into this cozy, simplistic nostalgia, righteous in its stand against the corporatization of literature by a certain online superstore that had gotten its start selling books and then expanded to selling everything. Publishing professionals were passionate believers in literature who couldn’t bear losing to companies whose executives didn’t care about books. 

But it was no longer a tenable career path.

Anna and everyone else she knew in the publishing-assistant class had a secondary source of income, gigging as copywriters or bartenders. Most of them, Anna included, could afford to work in publishing because they had a financial safety net. 

What’s more, they were expendable. There was always someone available to work for less money – a fresher, more energetic, more idealistic graduate with an even more forgiving financial safety net.

Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, people Anna’s age were starting companies, making their first millions and, she thought, doing work that mattered. She, on the other hand, was smoking weed, buying wrap dresses she couldn’t afford, and complaining dramatically.

Anna wanted to make money, to feel valued, to find her place in the world, and to create a career. One day, hungover and eating a sad desk salad at work, she saw an article about a start-up that had raised three million dollars to revolutionize book publishing. She didn’t know, yet, that this was basically pocket change in Silicon Valley terms. She was in. 

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