Longtime Silicon Valley Journalist Pens Novel on Tech’s Dark Side

Longtime Silicon Valley Journalist Pens Novel on Tech’s Dark Side

In the eyes of Paul Bradley Carr, a tech journalist who has covered Silicon Valley for over 20 years, the investors and executives who run the industry think critics are “viruses or bugs that need to be squashed.” And seeing the world “as data and bugs and problems to be solved rather than humanity and ethics and decency” inevitably “drives you into being a sociopath,” according to Carr.

In 1414°, Carr spins a fictional yet believable tale of the dark side of Silicon Valley that was inspired partially by an Uber executive suggesting the company hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists, after his girlfriend and PandoDaily editor Sarah Lacy accused the company of sexism and misogyny.

“Imagine getting that phone call,” Carr said in an interview with Patch. “‘Oh hi, this is Uber and we’d like to pay you a million dollars. But the job is, you’re going to quit being a journalist. You’re going to become a private investigator, like a dirt digger.’ How messed up did your life become if you go, ‘Yeah, I’ll take that job. That sounds great!’”

Released in October, Carr’s debut novel follows a journalist named Lou McCarthy who has made a career of holding the Silicon Valley elite accountable, yet remains frustrated that despite her work to expose their wrongdoings, the powerful always seem to slip away.

But McCarthy soon finds herself in the spotlight after two of her highest profile subjects in the tech world are killed. She teams up with an unlikely partner — a journalist-turned-public-relations-fixer for a tech giant — and they attempt together to take down the seemingly infallible “billionaire predators.”

The book, named after the melting point of silicon, was also inspired by “every single journalist who’s ever walked the face of the earth.” As Carr described, every journalist has “that moment” where they are faced with the existential question: “If nobody cares, why am I putting myself through this hell?”

“It’s not just that you live in poverty,” Carr said. “It’s not just that it’s a hard job and it’s a thankless job. At some point you’re just faced with ‘Does anybody give a s— about this’”?

Carr has written for publications like The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Private Eye, PandoDaily and TechCrunch, and eventually had so much material about the tech world that he had “no choice but to put it in a book.” He said he could have written the book as a non-fiction based on what he’s witnessed firsthand in Silicon Valley, but feared that readers wouldn’t enjoy it as much because they don’t want the stories to be true.

“There’s a lot of coverage of how terrible Silicon Valley and tech companies are,” Carr said. “But people don’t really care. They pretend to care, I think. But they don’t really care. Because they’re still on Facebook. And they’re still on Instagram.”

Carr said the nice thing about writing fiction is that readers assume that everything is made up — though while the names and companies in 1414° are fictitious, the events and descriptions are things that “could easily happen and the people are like that and those people do exist,” according to Carr.

“If I wrote a book called You Won’t Believe How Terrible Everything Is, people would read about two pages and go, ‘This is super depressing. I want to be able to still take Ubers,’ or, ‘I still want to be able to buy Bitcoin. Now you tell me to do that is a moral problem. Now I hate you. I hate you for ruining this for me,’’’ Carr said.

Carr sought to portray the Silicon Valley’s billionaire investors and executives as robots lacking humanity who have a vice grip on deciding which companies get funded and which don’t, which is why he believes women — and specifically women of color executives — are unfairly cast aside.

He also pointed out that tech executives “don’t read books,” so he doesn’t have to worry about negative feedback from them, unless it was presented to them in the form of spreadsheet.

Apart from Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s novel glorifying capitalism, “Do you think any of them have f— opened a book?” Carr said. “They see the humanities as being soft and as being irrelevant and as being sort of anti-data.”

The book is billed as the Silicon Valley’s “billionaire predators getting what they deserve,” but Carr cautioned that the takeaway from his novel should be open-ended, that the machines and money and power of the tech elite might just be strong enough to get away with anything.

Carr couldn’t completely envision a fictional “feel-good” ending where the good guys win and bad guys go away forever.

“I don’t know if Silicon Valley can be fixed even with something as fundamental as that,” Carr said. “If the arc of history leans towards justice, I think the arc of Silicon Valley leans towards hell.”

1414° is available on Amazon for $27 as a hardcover or $4.99 on Kindle.

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