Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener Read Online (FREE)
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Depending on whom you ask, it was either the apex, the inflection point, or the beginning of the end for Silicon Valley’s startup scene—what cynics called a bubble, optimists called the future, and my future coworkers, high on the fumes of world-historical potential, breathlessly called the ecosystem. A social network everyone said they hated but no one could stop logging in to went public at a valuation of one-hundred-odd billion dollars, its grinning founder ringing the opening bell over video chat, a death knell for affordable rent in San Francisco. Two hundred million people signed on to a microblogging platform that helped them feel close to celebrities and other strangers they’d loathe in real life. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality were coming into vogue, again. Self-driving cars were considered inevitable. Everything was moving to mobile. Everything was up in the cloud. The cloud was an unmarked data center in the middle of Texas or Cork or Bavaria, but nobody cared. Everyone trusted it anyway.
It was a year of new optimism: the optimism of no hurdles, no limits, no bad ideas. The optimism of capital, power, and opportunity. Wherever money changed hands, enterprising technologists and MBAs were bound to follow. The word “disruption” proliferated, and everything was ripe for or vulnerable to it: sheet music, tuxedo rentals, home cooking, home buying, wedding planning, banking, shaving, credit lines, dry cleaning, the rhythm method. A website that allowed people to rent out their unused driveways raised four million dollars from elite firms on Sand Hill Road. A website taking on the kennel market—a pet-sitting and dog-walking app that disrupted neighborhood twelve-year-olds—raised ten million. An app for coupon-clipping enabled an untold number of bored and curious urbanites to pay for services they never knew they needed, and for a while people were mainlining antiwrinkle toxins, taking trapeze lessons, and bleaching their assholes, just because they could do it at a discount.
It was the dawn of the era of the unicorns: startups valued, by their investors, at over a billion dollars. A prominent venture capitalist had declared in the op-ed pages of an international business newspaper that software was eating the world, a claim that was subsequently cited in countless pitch decks and press releases and job listings as if it were proof of something—as if it were not just a clumsy and unpoetic metaphor, but evidence.
Outside of Silicon Valley, there seemed to be an overall resistance to taking any of it too seriously. There was a prevailing sentiment that, just like the last bubble, this would eventually pass. Meanwhile, the industry expanded beyond the province of futurists and hardware enthusiasts, and settled into its new role as the scaffolding of everyday life.
Not that I was aware of any of this—not that I was paying any attention at all. I didn’t even have apps on my phone. I had just turned twenty-five and was living on the edge of Brooklyn with a roommate I hardly knew, in an apartment filled with so much secondhand furniture it almost had a connection to history. I had a fragile but agreeable life: a job as an assistant at a small literary agency in Manhattan; a smattering of beloved friends on whom I exercised my social anxiety, primarily by avoiding them.