Feb 13, 2020
In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, New Yorker writer Anna Wiener left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble—a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory, and (of course) progress. Drawing from her book Uncanny Valley, Wiener deftly charted the tech industry’s shift from self-appointed world savior to democracy-endangering liability, alongside a personal narrative of aspiration, ambivalence, and disillusionment.
In conversation with author and journalist Kristi Coulter, Wiener recalled her arrival to Silicon Valley amidst a massive cultural shift as the tech industry rapidly transformed into a locus of wealth and power rivaling Wall Street. She mused on the company ski vacations and in-office speakeasies, boyish camaraderie and ride-or-die corporate fealty which revealed a new image of Silicon Valley—one of a region in far over its head, enriching itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building. Wiener brought us a rare first-person glimpse into high-flying, reckless startup culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune, and accelerating political power. Listen in as Wiener and Coulter presented a cautionary tale and a revelatory interrogation of a world reckoning with consequences its unwitting designers are only beginning to understand.
Anna Wiener is a contributing writer to The New Yorker, covering Silicon Valley, startup culture, and technology. Her writing has appeared in n+1, The Atlantic, Wired, The New Republic, New York, Harper’s, and the Times Magazine.
Kristi Coulter is the author of the memoir-in-essays Nothing Good Can Come from This. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, New York Magazine/The Cut, The Awl, Glamour, Vox and other publications.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle. Recorded live in The Forum on February 1, 2020.