Thursday, September 7, 2017, 7:00 p.m., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
photo by Elliot Ross
in conversation with Oscar Villalon (Zyzzyva)
discussing her new book
Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology
published by MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The never-more-necessary return of one of our most vital and eloquent voices on technology and culture, the author of the seminal Close to the Machine
The last twenty years have brought us the rise of the internet, the development of artificial intelligence, the ubiquity of once unimaginably powerful computers, and the thorough transformation of our economy and society. Through it all, Ellen Ullman lived and worked inside that rising culture of technology, and in Life in Code she tells the continuing story of the changes it wrought with a unique, expert perspective.
When Ellen Ullman moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s and went on to become a computer programmer, she was joining a small, idealistic, and almost exclusively male cadre that aspired to genuinely change the world. In 1997 Ullman wrote Close to the Machine, the now classic and still definitive account of life as a coder at the birth of what would be a sweeping technological, cultural, and financial revolution.
Twenty years later, the story Ullman recounts is neither one of unbridled triumph nor a nostalgic denial of progress. It is necessarily the story of digital technology's loss of innocence as it entered the cultural mainstream, and it is a personal reckoning with all that has changed, and so much that hasn't. Life in Code is an essential text toward our understanding of the last twenty years—and the next twenty.
Ellen Ullman is the author of a novel, The Bug, a New York Times Notable Book and runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the cult classic memoir Close to the Machine, based on her years as a rare female computer programmer in the early years of the personal computer era. She lives in San Francisco.
Oscar Villalon is the former book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. His reviews appear on NPR.org and KQED's "The California Report." He is the Managing Editor of ZYZZYVA.