MixedThe NationThe Code urges us to consider Silicon Valley’s shortcomings as America’s shortcomings, even if it fails to interrogate them as deeply as our current crisis—and the role that technology played in bringing it about—seems to warrant ... On the one hand, O’Mara, a historian at the University of Washington, is clearly enamored with tales of entrepreneurial derring-do ... In her portrayal of Silicon Valley’s tech titans, O’Mara emphasizes virtuous qualities like determination, ingenuity, and humanistic concern, while hints of darker motives are studiously ignored ... at the same time, O’Mara helps us understand why Silicon Valley’s economic dominance can’t be chalked up solely to the grit and smarts of entrepreneurs battling it out in the free market. At every stage of its development, she shows how the booming tech industry was aided and abetted by a wide swath of American society both inside and outside the Valley ... What emerges in The Code is less the story of a tribe of misfits working against the grain than the simultaneous alignment of the country’s political, cultural, and technical elites around the view that Silicon Valley held the key to the future ... Despite offering evidence to the contrary, O’Mara narrates her tale of Silicon Valley’s rise as, ultimately, a success story ... she highlights the many issues that have sparked increasing public consternation with Big Tech of late, from its lack of diversity to its stupendous concentration of wealth, but these are framed in the end as unfortunate side effects of the headlong rush to create a new and brilliant future ... If there is a larger lesson to learn from The Code, it is that technology cannot be separated from the social and political contexts in which it is created.
PositiveNew YorkDrawing on four years of ethnographic research among Uber drivers, Rosenblat has produced a thoroughly dystopian report that details how millions of drivers are now managed by a computerized system that combines the hard authoritarianism of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the cynical cheerleading of Michael Scott ... Cab drivers have typically occupied a benighted role in the public imagination: hustlers, criminals, or, at best, misanthropic folk philosophers. Rosenblat offers a valuable history of the ideological work that went into the \'gentrification\' of the profession ... Rosenblat...maintains a sometimes-unnerving cool while narrating tales of outrageous exploitation ... Uberland conveys a variety of driver experiences that you rarely get from exposés about Uber’s work conditions, which focus on extreme cases ... After efficiently exposing how Uber’s rhetoric about \'driver-partners\' is essentially a rhetorical smokescreen, it was disorienting to see Rosenblat basically come around to their main point, that work done on the platform might not really be work, even if her emphasis is more critical ... Rosenblat’s argument would go down easier if it was rooted in the specific history of the taxi industry, instead of an abstract notion of \'work.\' But a quick glimpse at that history suggests Uber’s algorithmic management is less a revolution than a refinement.