tv Interview with Anna Wiener Uncanny Valley CSPAN July 27, 2019 5:22pm-5:46pm EDT
conference in las vegas. a couple of authors you will hear from our former congressman bob barr. on presidential impeachment and freedom fast founder, market -- looks at politics of author, jack london. check your cable guide or visit booktv.org for more information. >> you are watching booktv on c-span2. we are in 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. who has a book coming out in january 2020, it is called "uncanny valley".a memoir anna wiener, would you do now for living and how did you get there? >> great question. [laughter] i am writing full-time. i am a writer for the new yorker website. i cover culture. i got there probably through
the most -- >> walk us through a peer started with college peer. >> it was just my 10 year reunion so -- [laughter] i did not attend! >> i graduated 2009 from wesleyan 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 my internships and my parents in music for a while i worked at a literary agency for a couple of years in new york. after that joined doing a netflix or e-book type. i was there just for three months. it was just supposed to be that i was the person that knew about books and publishing.
it was a four-person company want to join three of four founders. from there went to san francisco and worked at a data analytics startup. at that it would be a great application for my sociology degree. little did i know i wasn't what they were looking for. i did the 18 months which is probably the longest 18 months of my life. and i really like to work in a company building software for full software development. a software company building software for developers. >> to be clear, did you come back to new york? are you still based -- >> i am still in san francisco. >> he did stay peer. >> island left the industry in 2018. i sort of been writing about it a little while and it reached a point where it seemed i could really no longer do both. so i left last february. >> one of the things that you do in "uncanny valley", you describe your young adulthood here in new york city.
i had a fragile but agreeable life, job as an assistant of a literary agency manhattan, smattering of friends, whom i exercise my social anxiety by avoiding them in the manner so many twentysomethings living in brooklyn at a time when an artisanal chocolate factory was known as an landmark people talk about urban homesteading. my life was effectively analog. was it typical for people your age living in new york city? >> a good question. i don't know. i'm the guy can make a generalization but people my age but definitely my cohort coming out of the liberal arts college, people who really -- >> wanted to be in publishing. >> you people into art, literature you know, i lived in greenpoint where there was a
pretty vibrant culture in the art scene and the music scene. technology was not, it was sort of incidental. it wasn't the focus and i think that our world was way more, is just a tangible physical world, it wasn't one characterized by speed or invisibility. if that makes sense. >> he described publishing is rather antiquated. >> i think publishing -- i mean, there really different, right?publishing books take a long time to make. often they require less time to write and fruit them together so he is the best of the book often. so and silicon valley people are pushing software before truly finished, to see how it goes, the and there really different approaches to product
developer. i mean i am horrified that is referred to making a book is product development but as it is, is sort of values that motivates books are really different. >> is it addicting? >> technology? >> some i think. yeah. >> the mindset, bigger, better, faster. >> yes, i found it really intoxicating. >> intoxicating, better word. >> feels really good to see the product of your labor that is realized quickly and you kind of get the feedback of you know, working on something and you see it go. you can do that 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 like in terms of how can technology provide new infrastructure for publishing or -- it's hard to say think along technology is pulled from products are available that i tried to innovate. it has really taken off their expected to. i think obviously he reading is a big development. but don't really know the answer to that question.the thing is 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? >> at the state analytics -- i joined customer support. >> what did you know about data analytics at the time? [laughter] >> very close to nothing. >> what were you hired? >> well, i was later told i was
hired because of part 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 and apparently -- >> he said it was for his girlfriend. >> even helping his girlfriend study so i guess they sort of figured it would be a method of quantifying qualitative skills. and in silicon valley think that is what people are really trying to figure out, how to quantify everything. so it seems like a useful tool for them. but yeah, i think they saw that i was someone who like to write, you know grammatically correct email and i was willing to learn the technology side. and i-- they also need some really to jump in. a good question.
>> being the only woman on a non-technical team providing supportive software developers was like therapy for misogyny. break that down for us. >> umm, i think he was trying to lead to just every day emotional experience would be not just the only woman on a team of munn but for women at a company 20 or six women at a company of 40. and for me i was sort of surrounded by male confidence. and all of these young men who really felt like they'd 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 sort of an everyday struggle to
just like make sure that people were treating me fairly and as an equal and try not to let myself get gas lit too quickly. >> to get? >> gasit, or to see that there good reason instead of that was based on some other rubric that was you know gender specific. a little hard to break it down. like i know how it feels to articulate differently. >> very few women though. correct? >> yes. >> famously so. >> were technologists or are technologists treated differently than the support staff? >> definitely! i think it is a culture that really values not just the engineering skill set which is in short supply so the market really values that but is a way
of looking at the world i think people really appreciate. looking at infrastructure, looking at systems and sort of high-level overview of how things work and support is a non-technical, it's a little bit technical but largely non-technical role and you are dealing with peoples feelings and it can take a long time and you know often deal with a user is tedious and i think it's a sort of soft skill role, they just on the same cultural capitol as a technical ones. >> anna wiener, did you find that 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 whatever you might call it. i think that people, like the
future of work a cohesive category at the people looking to organize workplaces. i don't mean it 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 you know people have you know the cultures really responded to these tech companies and so 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 bad. i think it is specific but also there's a lot to learn and a lot that also i think could be readily dismissed. >> what does the term uncanny come from? >> "uncanny valley" is a frame
from fedex and robotics it describes the chance of seeing humanoid robot so realistic that something is a little bit off. and so you sort of fall into this valley of, it's sort of like a eerie sensation of things like being close to human but not quite right. close to real. >> is a how you felt when you are out there? >> yeah, i think it describes emotional experience in certain ways for sure. >> you were paid $69,000 your first job in silicon valley. with benefits. was that enough to survive on? >> in 2013 it was. and i had a rent controlled apartment that was still about one third of my paycheck but i was really lucky. i didn't have student debt, i didn't have anyone relying on me for financial support so i
definitely was surviving. more than surviving. anyone in the city now making $65,000 he would have to find an apartment. it's probably more difficult time than i was facing. >> from your book, it did not take long to understand the fetish for big data. [laughter] >> would you like tome to expan on that? >> yes. >> i think it still exists. around the time of his writing people really excited about big data. the technology had made as a people could collect data basically on any product, story running queries on it and you know i think some like to know was going on see look at the cohort level analysis and it really shows how people are using your product or you know, how people are engaging with technology are building. i think also you know, my third
month on the job in the analytics company was -- didn't realize how high the fetish goes and surveillance applications and you know i think is just people like to have information and it is preferable to be in the position of having information and being someone whose information is being collected by unknown entities. >> what can be done with all the information? [laughter] >> what can't be done? >> it is all about marketing? >> i think on the internet, the internet economy is largely about target ads i think it's also about any individual actors usually await for the company to make money unless their business is selling data to someone else with advertisers. so you know, a an e-commerce
site might track a check up register where make it easier to check out in the way that maybe amazon makes it incredibly easy and swift to pay. they might make it as frictionless as possible to get peoples money. so that would be a sort of i think pretty kosher application of user data or engagement data.i think you know it gets more -- have cell phone companies selling location data to, and forgetting who the, i guess advertisers will also it is so difficult to purchase the information. i think euros of government surveillance, that can be used to target people who might be suspicious for whatever reason that is culturally based or you know you have people who are
targeted for minorities or -- so i don't know, i mean it is sort of limitless. these are mysterious forces that kind of under everything. >> where were you raised? >> i grew up in brooklyn. >> you are from new york city. culture shock on the other coast? >> definitely, yes. in many ways. i think that the sort of counterculture has a pretty significant presence even if it is largely based in the nostalgia. people are more laid-back, more casual. i was so the intellectual culture specifically, i don't feel i can really speak about san francisco because i, when i moved there you know in the context of this book, my life was very comfortable.
i would hang out with coworkers, i would say that was a great cultural citizen. i -- >> you are down for the cause as they say. >> i was down for the cause. >> what does that mean? >> it's at the start up when it's referred to be committed. putting the company first. making sure that the success of the team was a priority. >> the book is called "uncanny valley" and we are talking to anna wiener about it. the book is coming out in january 2020. it is a long lead time, isn't it? >> i guess so! yeah, i'm not, i'm not -- i did make the decision but i think january is a good time.
>> to go back to live in san francisco, one of the things you write. i've never seen such a shameful juxtaposition of blatant suffering and affluent idealism. >> yeah, the anyone who's been to san francisco in the last decade has probably seen this. there is a growing homeless population i think something like 17 percent in the last two years. i found a very jarring, i still do. i hope i never, ever never stop finding it jarring but you walk downtown to the market in a neighborhood where love the startups are in san francisco and people will be sleeping on the street outside of a company like uber or you know, you will see people doing drugs are with mental illness out of city hall and you know you people were building the future in cities where people are really being failed at the most basic level. anything for me it just felt, and it still does, if you like
whiplash and you know they are committed to solving problems and a lot of companies are solving a lot of problems but these very basic fundamental problems are all over the city and i just have always found it interesting that people have really turned their attention to what is literally on their doorstep. >> so, covering tech today, elect different, do you get access to the tech company? >> i've really been writing more about the culture of the industry and it's tricky. i think that a little bit i'm not really do like investigative journalism so is less of an issue for me. but yeah i mean i think people in silicon valley are excited to talk about what they're working on. and it is a pretty secretive industry. unity of google, apple,
facebook, some people -- i don't know, it is funny. i do feeling having gone from being a tech worker to writing about the tech industry that sort of like the doors of power in the city of closed on me. and i'm no longer on the inside i'm still very much paying attention to the industry. >> after 18 months in the tech industry, the longest in your life as you say. >> may be a little dramatic. >> okay. >> differently the most intense in my work life. >> do you still use all the different websites that we all know, do use more or less attack? >> i'm a little bit more paranoid. significantly more paranoid about what kind of data i'm
sharing with apps or who gets to see that inside the companies. yeah, i mean i think my download an app and i see there's no revenue model i am immediately suspicious of it and i tend not to use it. anything that is asking for assess my photos or address book i tend not to use or turn off the settings. i use ad blockers and everything except media websites. and cookies, tracking technology blockers so yeah, i, i love technology as a consumer in many ways but i do feel more aware of this various abuses of information that can happen. i feel very protective of like my time on the internet. i assume they will probably
change up and quite proud of the fact that if you google me there's no pictures of my face on google. i've managed to get away with that for i don't know, 20 years. i maybe have always been a little bit paranoid about the internet i guess. >> it is called "uncanny valley", a memoir. the author is new yorker, contributor, anna wiener. this is booktv on c-span2. >> reagan is an intellectual. he is an intellectual, he is comfortable with ideas. he understands the power of ideas. and with that kind of foundation, intellectual foundation, a political leader can do all kinds of marvelous things. chris author and historian, lee edwards, will be our guest on "in depth" sunday, august 4 from noon until 2 pm eastern. mr. woods is the author of just right, plus a collection of biographies of barry
goldwater and ronald reagan. join our live conversation with your phone calls, tweets and facebook questions. watch "in depth" with author lee edwards live sunday, august 4 from noon until 2 pm eastern. be sure to watch live coverage of the firstname.lastname@example.org book festival on saturday, august 31 on booktv. on c-span2. >> so let me take a little bit about our author this evening. david randall is a senior reporter. because of different cannabis, knock knock jokes and kenny g. his books are dreamland and the king and queen of malibu, the true story of the battle for paradise. which is currently in development as a television series. he's been on msnbc, fox, reuters, npr and elsewhere. his book our pick of the month, "black death at the golden