tv Interview with Anna Wiener Uncanny Valley CSPAN June 15, 2019 4:52pm-5:16pm EDT
[inaudible conversations] >> here is a look at some books being published this week. in panic attack robbie slavik takes a critical look at college campus activism. in the wake of the 2016 election. daniel brooks explores the history of mixed race urbanites during reconstruction in the accident of color. and by the references travis reeder describes his personal struggle with opioids in his memoir "in pain" also published this week in jan castro, harvard lecturer jonathan hansen recalls the upbringing and years of fidel castro. in " words no bars can hold" deborah ãfox our efforts to teach literacy in prison. look for these titles in bookstores this coming week. and watch these authors on book tv on c-span2.
>> you are watching booktv on c-span2, we are at new york city at the annual publishers convention talking with authors who have books coming out and now we want to introduce you to anna wiener. she has a book coming out in january of 2020 called "uncanny valley". anna wiener, what do you do now for a living and how did you get there? >> great question. currently writing full-time. i'm a contributing writer for the new yorker website that covers culture in san francisco. i got there probably through the most backward path imaginable. >> walk us through it. starting with college. >> starting with college, it was just my 10 year reunion. i did not attend. i graduated in 2009 from lesley university with a degree in sociology.
i just read in the wall street journal that 2009 was the worst job market for generations. i had the good fortune to walk straight into that. after budget internship with biking and working in music for a while, i worked at a literary agency for a few years. >> here in new york cannot. >> here in new york. after that joined a startup was doing a netflix or ãtype of act. i was there for three months. i was supposed to be the person who knew about books and publishing. it was a four-person company when i joined. from there i went to san francisco and worked at a data analytics startup. which i thought would be a great application of my sociology degree. little did i know, not exactly what they were looking for. i did that for 18 months, probably the longest 18 months of my life. from there i went to work at a
company building software for open stores software development. the software company building software for software developers. >> to be clear, did you come back to new york? are you still based there? access to live in san francisco. >> you did stay. >> i did. i only left the industry in 2018. i had been writing about it for a little while. then it sort of reached a point where it seemed like i could ã ã here in new york city. fragile but agreeable life, of a small literary agency in ãb
in a matter of so many twentysomethings living in north brooklyn. in a time when artisanal chocolate factory was considered local landmark. people spoke earnestly about urban homesteading.my life was effectively analog. was that typical for people your age living in new york city? >> that's a good question. >> i don't think i can make a generalization about people my age but definitely my covert coming out of a liberal arts college will. >> really wanted to be in publishing. people related to art, music, literature, and lived in greenpoint where there was a pretty vibrant culture in the art scene in the music scene. technology was sort of incidental. it wasn't the focus. i think our worlds were way more, it was just a tangible physical world.
it wasn't one characterized by speed or visibility. if that makes sense. >> he described publishing as rather quaint, antiquated. >> relatively. they are really different. publishing, it took a very long time to make. often they apply a lot of time to write. and to put them together slowly is the benefit of the book. in silicon valley people are pushing software before they're finished. there entering it very quickly. very different approaches to product development. i'm horrified i just referred to making a book as product abutment but in so far as it is the values that motivate books are really different. >> is it addicting? >> technology? some i think. >> the mindset addictive?
>> that's a good question. yes, i found it really intoxicating. >> that's a better word. >> it feels really good to see the products of your labor and realize quickly. you get in the feedback loop of working on something and you see it go. you can see that really quickly. within a month of having something a viable product. what about publishing and technology? is there a synergy there? >> that's a good question. a synergy in terms of how can technology provide new infrastructure for publishing? it's hard to say. i think a lot of the technologies and products available that have tried to integrate into publishing or books have really taken off ãb
have not really taken off the way they are expected to. i don't really know the answer to that question. i think it's kind of hard to iterate on a pretty perfect technology. i think the book is a pretty perfect technology. >> what was your first job in san francisco? >> it was at the state analytics startup. i'd joined to do customer support. >> what did you know about data analytics? >> very close to nothing. >> why were you hired? >> i was later told i was hired because ãbpart of the interview process i was given a section of the lsat and i sat there with one of the founders and took the lsat. >> he said it was for his girlfriend. >> he's been helping his girlfriend study. he was familiar with the text.
i guess they figured it would be a method of quantifying qualitative skills and in silicon valley i think that's people are trying to figure out how you quantify everything. it seems like a useful tool for them. i think they saw i was someone who like to write. ... break that down for us. [laughter]
>> ummm... i think that was trying to relate to everyday emotional experience of being not just the only woman on earth but one of four women at a company of 20 or six women at a company of 40. and for me it was sort of drowned by mail confidence in all these men who really felt it been given the green light by society to do what they wanted to do. and it was working. and things are moving really fast and i think for me, it was an everyday struggle to just like make sure people were treating me fairly and as an equal. and try not to let myself get gas lit too quickly. >> to get?>> gas lit. or to feel that i was, if something seemed off to me to make sure that it, there was good reason for it rather than
assuming that it was based on some other rubric that was you know, gender specific. it is a little hard to break it down. i know how it feels but cannot articulate it a certain way. >> very few women though. correct? >> yes. >> were technologists or are technologists treated differently than the support staff? >> definitely. [laughter] i think it is a culture that really values, not just the engineering skill set which you know has been in short supply so the market really values it, obviously. but it is a way of looking at the world that i think people really appreciate. looking at the infrastructure, looking at systems and sort of high-level overview of how things work and support is a non-technical -- it is little technical but largely not a
non-technical role in your dealing with peoples feelings and it can take a long time. and you know, often, dealing with the user is tedious and i think that is a sort of soft skill, these soft skills don't necessarily have the same capitol as technical ones. >> anna wiener did you find what you are learning in silicon valley will at some point be the new norm? for business?>> i think a lot of companies are interested in having some of that silicon valley startup i don't know, whatever you might call it. i think that people like the future of work as far as that category people are trying to figure out how to organize the workplaces. i do not mean that in a union way although that would also be
fantastic. and how to -- you know, how to keep up with the culture, the pace of technology and clearly, people have really the culture has really responded to the tech companies, how do you think silicon valley has become a model for other industries. for better and for worse. i don't think it is all that. it is specific to the case but also, there's a lot to learn and a lot that i think could be readily dismissed. >> what is the term uncanny come from? >> is a term from robotics. it describes the experience of being say a human robot so realistically something is a little off. so you sort of fall into this valley of it is a sort of like eerie sensation of things like
being close to him and but not quite right.or close to real but something is a little each week. >> is that how you felt when you were out there? [laughter] >> yeah, i think describes the emotional experience in certain ways for sure. >> he obtained $69,000 your first job in silicon valley with benefits. was that -- >> 65. >> 65, was that enough to survive? >> in 2015 it was. i had an apartment that was one third my paycheck but i was very lucky i did not have student debt. i didn't have anyone relying on me for financial support. i definitely was surviving more than surviving. i think anyone moving to the city now making $65,000 a year would have to find an apartment, they're probably in for a more difficult time than i would --
>> it did not take long for me to understand the fetish of big data. >> would like me to expand on that? >> yes. >> i think that, i think it still exists. around the time i was writing, people really excited about big data. the technology had made it so that people could collect data on basically any moving product, run queries on it. and you know, i think systems like i was going out to look at this cohort level analysis and really shows you have your people are using your product or you know, how people are engaging with technology your building. and i think also, my third month on the job at the analytic company was ãthe story had broke i didn't realize how high up the fetish story goes and i started with surveillance applications obviously and you know i think it is just people like having information and it is
preferable to be in the position of having information on people rather than being someone, information is being collected by you know, unknown entities. >> what can be done with all of that information? [laughter] >> like what can't be done with all the information? you know, we see >> is all about marketing? >> i think of the internet, the internet economy is largely about ãi think it's also about any individual app there's usually a way for the company to make money unless their business is selling data to someone else for advertisers say. so you know, a, an e-commerce site might find that they tweak a certain, if pages are way or make it easier to check out and maybe the way that amazon makes it incredibly easy and quick to pay, they might make it as quick and painless as possible
to get peoples money. that would be a sort of i think, pretty kosher application of user data or engagement data. i think you know, it gets more frightening. you have the cell phone companies selling location data to, and forgetting who the ãi guess advertisers also is not difficult to purchase this information. euros of government surveillance that can target people that might be suspicious for whatever reason that you know, is really culturally based or you know your people that are target who are minorities or -- so, i don't know. it is sort of limitless. they are mysterious forces that
are under everything. >> where were you raised? >> i grew up in brooklyn. >> you are from new york city. culture shock going to the other coast? >> definitely, yes. in many ways. i think that the sort of 60s counterculture has a significant presence in san francisco still.in nostalgia. people are more laid-back, cult moved there, the context of the book, my life was very claustrophobic. i was in the office, hanging out with coworkers. when i say it was a great cultural citizen. [laughter] >> you are down for the cause. as they say. >> i was down for the cause. >> what does that mean? >> was at the amazon startup, it referred to being committed to the company.
so if you stayed up until midnight working on a project that made was not within your job a responsibility it would be down for the cause. putting the company first. making sure that the success of the team was a priority.>> the book is called "uncanny valley: a memoir". we are talking to anna wiener about it.the book is coming out in january of 2020. that is a long lead time. isn't it? >> i guess so! yeah, i'm not -- i did not make the decision but i think january is a good time. >> but to go back to life in san francisco, one of the things the right, i'd never seen such a shameful juxtaposition of blatant suffering and affluent idealism. >> a thing and when that's been to san francisco in last decade has probably seen this. there is a growing homeless population. i think a something a 17 percent in the last two years.
i found it very jarring, i still do. i hope i never stop -- you walk downtown, south of the market which is a neighborhood where a lot of startups are in san francisco. people will be sleeping on the street outside of the company like uber or you know, you'll see people doing drugs or struggling with mental illness onset of city hall. and it -- you know your people building the future in a city where people are really being filled at the most basic level. and so i think for me it just felt, and still does, feel like whiplash. tech is really committed to solving problems and a lot of companies are solving important problems but these very basic fundamental problems are all over the city and i just have always found it interesting that people haven't really
turned their attention to what is literally on their doorstep. >> so, covering tech today, a lot different, do get access to the tech companies? >> right now i've really been writing more about the culture of the industry. and access is tricky. i think that a little bit, i've had -- i'm not really doing investigative journalism so it is less of an issue for me. but yeah, i mean i think people in silicon valley are excited to talk about what they are working on. it is a pretty secretive industry. you know google, apple, facebook, or blackbox even. the people who report on them as a dedicated beat but, i don't know it's funny, i do feel having gone from being a tech worker to writing about the tech industry that is sort of like the doors of the tower
in the city haveclosed on me. i'm nowhere -- no longer on the inside. >> after 18 months in the tech industry, the longest in your life as you say. [laughter] >> may be a little dramatic! >> okay. >> definitely the most intense in my work life.>> do you still use all the different websites that we all know? do use more or less tech? >> i'm a little more paranoid. i'm significantly more paranoid about what kind of data i am sharing with apps or websites and who gets to see the inside the companies. yeah, i mean if i downloaded an app and i see they do not have a revenue model, i am immediately suspicious of it and i will not use it. anything that asks for my photos or access to my address
book, i tend not to use or turn off the settings but i use ad blockers on everything except for media websites. and cookies, tracking, technology blockers. yeah, i, i love technology as a consumer in many ways. but i do feel more aware just in sort of various abuses of information that can happen. and i feel very protective of like my, my content on the internet. actually, like -- i assume the book will probably change it but i'm quite proud of the fact that if you google me i have no pictures of my face on google. i managed to get away with that for i don't know, 20 years. so, i maybe have always been a little bit paranoid about the internet i guess. >> the book is called "uncanny valley: a memoir" the author is
anna wiener. this is booktv on c-span. >> next up, a preview of some of the books being published this fall. authors speak include -- malcolm gladwell and rachel maddow. then presidential historians discuss the strength and weaknesses of the u.s. previous chief executives. and later, cbs sunday morning correspondent discusses his forthcoming book of obituaries featuring politicians, scientists, entertainers and others. it all starts now on booktv on c-span2. >> now here's a fall book preview. [inaudible conversations] >> good morning. good morning. i feel like such a sc