I read Filip Syta’s The Show (published by Inkshares) a few weeks ago, and it was the final nail in a coffin that’s been long in the making. I knew that I couldn’t review the book with any kind of honesty until I’d given it some time to marinate, and waited for certain changes in my life (detailed below) to take place.
To be frank, I’m still not even sure if I liked the book. The writing didn’t pull me in, though it’s mechanically good, and the protagonist is, for most of the book, a patently shitty person.
But the book does one thing exceptionally well, which earns it a high rating in my opinion: it is deeply—almost painfully—honest about the experience of working in the tech world.
Vic, the star of The Show, picks up and moves to San Francisco, a gleam in his eye as he considers his future with “Show”—a company which is never explicitly called, but probably is, Google. He knows he’s going to work at one of the coolest companies in the world, and that the name alone is enough to cast a halo over his head. He’s part of the Biggest Thing On Earth(TM).
He sees the world around him as his new plaything. He is intoxicated by his newfound wealth, and the ostentation of his industry and company. He sees, but doesn’t acknowledge, the gross and growing wealth disparity in San Francisco. He is fed, liquored up, and paid handsomely. And for a time, he works hard for it.
But for the most part, he fritters away his time getting wasted, chasing casual sex, and generally being a cocky asshole. Eventually, he just spends his time drunk between hangovers and lying to his clients and supervisors.
I’ve worked with Vic. I’ve worked with many Vics.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to launch into a diatribe against everyone I used to work with, or millennials, or anything like that. I’m going to talk about the way working in tech changed me.
In tech, as in anywhere in the world, there are good and bad people. But my observations tell me that a higher percentage of cutthroat sociopaths chase the “easy” money in tech than want to, say, fix a cup of coffee or wait tables. I could be wrong. Grass is always greener, I suppose.
I started working in tech due to a stroke of luck. A close friend opened the door, and I gladly walked through it. I vibrated with excitement at the prospect of being gainfully employed, making more money than I could honestly believe, at one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, at twenty-one. I drank deeply of the kool-aid; practically swore allegiance to the company.
Slowly, my idea of the company began to fade. That vision was shattered into dust by my first Vegas conference.
I watched obscenely wealthy people mingle with their much-poorer paid associates from around the country, getting belligerent drunk, exposing their gross misogyny and brutishness, cloaked in the false twilight of casino floors, glowing with liquor and fake attention from paid hyper-sexualized women.
I watched people cheat on their spouses, or at least try. I dragged a nearly-unconscious executive, her dress torn well above her waist, to her room, lest she be set upon by less-than-savory, lecherous creeps who likely disregarded her words at meetings. A married co-worker tried wrapping her leg around me at the bar we’d rented out for the opening night drinkfest. I escaped to my room to read a book with a dragon on the cover.
I watched the jaws of a trap spring shut around my mind. I felt like I was careening hopelessly toward becoming what I saw, drawn in by the enormous gravity well that forms from trying to buy your way out of bone-deep dissatisfaction.
That isn’t to say that the entirety of my tech life was bad. I made great friends, worked diligently, and learned a great many things. I do not consider these last seven years wasted.
But in reading The Show, I realized that it was past time for me to leave that life and try to make it some other way. I want to create. To write. To read. To listen. To explore. To exercise. The exhaustion, mental and physical, that was the result of day-in-day-out rat racery stifled my creative mind. It made me a poorer listener. It made me lazy. It also made me deeply depressed, a condition for which I’m now medicated.
There are moments in The Show that remind me so much of my own experience, that resonate so truthfully with the things I’ve seen in my (admittedly short) time in tech that I reeled as I read. As the plot thickened and Vic realized that his life was falling apart despite appearances to the contrary, I saw myself reflected in the pages.
The whole book encapsulates the zeitgeist of silicone valley tech so accurately that it is difficult to point to one passage call it an exemplar of techbro life.
But if I had to choose, I’d pick this one:
“The next day, I was back at work and was in a meeting that was about a previous meeting, which we had had to discuss another meeting that we’d had in response to a meeting someone had had with someone else. Almost everyone in the room was sitting with their laptops open browsing the internet, reopening the same websites over and over again to see if anything new had happened during the twenty seconds since they’d last checked.”
I’ve been in those meetings.
There’s one other moment in the book that comes to mind as particularly resonant. Shortly after one member of the crew says that he feels like his mind is putrefying on the job, during another moment of vulnerability, a colleague tells Vic that he went to seek help at the on-site mental health services clinic.
“’You know what they said when I wanted to sign up for an appointment?’
‘That you should do some cocaine and you’ll be fine?’ I smiled.
‘Wouldn’t surprise me. No, that there is a waiting list of two thousand employees, and the first available appointment is in eight weeks. Aren’t we supposed to work at the best place in the world? How can there be so many of us in need of a shrink?…’”
Yesterday was my last day at the big tech company. Today, I start something entirely new.