From the Pulitzer Prize Finalist author of Immortal King Rao, a collection of essays exploring how technology has become an inextricable part of modern life.
by Vauhini Vara
Pantheon, March 2025
(via Writers House)
When it was released to the public in November 2022, ChatGPT sparked a global commotion. Now, anyone could be a novelist. Brands could generate copy and students could pen essays in mere seconds, all thanks to this frighteningly smart algorithm turned ghostwriter that could crank out pages of text at the drop of a prompt. Had writing just been democratized or destroyed?
It was a question that Vauhini Vara—tech journalist, former New Yorker business editor, and prize-winning author of the novel The Immortal King Rao—had long been grappling with. Her own relationship with ChatGPT began in 2021, when, using a beta version, she decided to use the program to attempt to write an essay about the death, two decades earlier, of her older sister. What resulted from the exercise was both a far more moving experience than she imagined, and an essay unlike any she had ever written—one that soon went viral. In the months that followed, it would be aired on the radio by This American Life; anthologized in The Best American Essays; and adapted for the stage.
In that essay, along with the others in this searing yet playful collection, Vara’s experiments with technology double as critiques of it. From Google search data to Amazon reviews to crowdsourced confessionals from both Vara’s peers and anonymous contributors, the raw material of Searches explores what it means to be alive in a world where human communication is inseparable from technology. Like the programs she explores, Vara’s voice is ever-evolving, at once experimental and deeply familiar to anyone who has experienced both wonderment and fear about our technological future, a future that has come to be seen as inevitable.
Vauhini Vara is the author of This is Salvaged, named a notable book of 2023 by Publisher’s Weekly, The New Yorker and others, and The Immortal King Rao, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She is also a journalist, writing for Wired and others, and an editor, most recently at The New York Times Magazine. She teaches at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Book Project and is the secretary of the mentorship collective Periplus.