Derik Badman's Journal

2020-02-15 08:57

Earlier in the week I read Anna Weiner's Uncanny Valley, a memoir of her time working for tech start-ups in Silicon Valley. It was a breezy, thoughtful, occasionally funny read. As a personal look at the culture of the start-ups and some disturbing implications of the intersection for the larger culture they are influencing so much, it's well worth a read for anyone interestied in technology or the internet from a cultural perspective. She takes the interesting tact of not using proper names for the companies she references or for most of the characters (the ones that aren't her current friends, I'm guessing): so Facebook is referred to as "the social network everyone hates but still logs onto" (I paraphrase), or Google is "giant search engine." I assume there might be some kind of legal reason for her doing that in regards to the companies she actually worked at (one of which is GitHub), but it also adds an odd flavor of mystery and enstrangement to the book. I read it, deciphering the names, trying to figure out what companies (or people) she was referring to. I didn't recognize the first companies she worked at (though you can find out online if you look around), but I immediately recognized the description when she went to GitHub (which we use heavily at work, as do innumerable coders). It was unexpected to read about her work there, basically monitoring content in re copyright violations but also hate speech and the like. Apparently people make use of the service for way more than just tracking code changes and bugs and releases. In the end, her book really puts into doubt the idea that these companies created and run by, usually, privileged young white men with often limited social skills are really up to the job (or even think they have the job) of dealing with the effects of their creations: surveillance, hate speech, shitty employment, etc.