Tech reviews

Sure to be Silicon Valley’s favorite hate-read

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‘Kara Swisher has managed to write a laugh-out-loud funny book about the grim reality of what Silicon Valley has wrought upon the world’

The title of Kara Swisher’s new memoir invokes high school mean girl, because she wants you to know that she’s ready to dish the dirt. And there’s a lot of it from her 30-year career covering the biggest names in tech.

Swisher has managed to write a laugh-out-loud funny book about the grim reality of what Silicon Valley has wrought upon the world. It is gossip of the highest order and she shares anecdote after disturbing anecdote about the small group of mostly white men with chronically juvenile tendencies who’ve amassed unprecedented power and wealth through the tech that governs nearly every aspect of our lives. 

She intentionally punches up and elevates name calling to an art form, reminding readers – if not the old media barons and tech titans themselves – that these guys are too often more cringeworthy than praiseworthy, more willfully ignorant than omniscient, more delusional than enlightened. 

How does Swisher get away with it? Maybe because she’s as audacious as her subjects and they know it. 

Swisher fell in love with tech in the 1990s, enamored by “tech’s ability to transform the world, to solve problems that had plagued us for centuries.” But the romance didn’t last. “The Internet, which others had mocked, had become nothing short of miraculous. And, as it turned out, also disastrous.”

She recounts a conversation with Rappler co-founder Maria Ressa in 2017, who warned that Facebook was ignoring the real-world threats enabled by its platform. From that moment, “as much as I tried to sound alarms, I could not stop them. Each year since has brought bigger and fresher tech messes,” Swisher writes.

‘Burn Book: A Tech Love Story’ review: Sure to be Silicon Valley’s favorite hate-read

She lays the blame squarely with the tech barons, venture capitalists, and the constellation of toxic characters who enabled them. Reading the book reminded me of the apocryphal Margaret Atwood quote: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.”

In the ensuing years she says, “a truism began to form in my brain about the lack of women and people of color in the leadership ranks of tech: The innovators and executives ignored issues of safety not because they were necessarily awful, but because they had never felt unsafe a day in their lives. Their personal experience informed the development of unfettered platforms. And, in turn, this inability to understand the consequences of their inventions began to curdle the sunny optimism of tech that had illuminated the sector.”

Swisher’s memoir is also part tech industry blooper reel and part case study about how to make it as an enterprising journalist even as she laments the survival of the news business. One of her early hunches that “the Internet is going to grind down all of media into dust” turns out to be true enough.

The book isn’t all scathing wit and pointed barbs. Swisher is wistful at times, musing on her own mortality and that of the visionary figures she admired, most notably Apple’s Steve Jobs. 

She holds out hope that we can curb Big Tech’s rapaciousness. “Despite the heartbreak, we must act. And we must do it quickly to push technology toward its potential for positive impact,” she concludes.

Swisher’s tech love story will surely be Silicon Valley’s favorite hate-read. –

Lara Honrado is a co-founder of Ouano Foundation. She is a writer and former public servant based in Vancouver, Canada.


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