Vivek Haldar

Review: Close to the Machine

The opening pages, where two programmers are completing each others sentences as they try to find the root cause of a bug, is the lure that will immediately pull any programmer into this book. But as you journey into the book, you find someone who can plumb the depths of the pathos of this tribe of people. A literary Sherry Turkle, if you will. And as she does that, her sparklingly detailed vignettes of the life and people of Silicon Valley (because where else could a book like this be set?) propel you forward.

As the title suggests, a big part of the book is about the discontents of being enveloped in technology, and of spending your life building it. Like a fine Greek tragedy in which joy and sorrow are weaved fine, that is inextricably linked to what draws them in in the first place. When doing that it’s easy to fall into the trap being nostalgic, of looking back with rose-tinted glasses and discounting the advantages of the present, and favouring the past simply because it was known and loved. Deep in their heart of hearts, everyone’s ideal world is that of their childhood. That’s the trap of nostalgia– to think that the world was simpler and purer, when actually it was us who were simpler and purer. Which is why it was refreshing to see the author take an unsentimental look at the side of technology that estranges us, makes us “virtual.”

I thoroughly enjoyed it.