Magic and Loss
The Internet as Art
In her new book Magic and Loss, Virginia Heffernan treats the Internet not merely as a new technology or business tool, but as a great masterpiece of civilization—a massive and collective work of art that radically revitalizes the way we see digital life. PBS calls Heffernan a “luminary” and “among the founding mothers of the digital revolution.”
“A thoroughly engrossing examination of the Internet’s past, present, and future.”— Kirkus Reviews
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Pick, WIRED’s #1 summer must-read, and one of Inc.’s 10 Smartest Books for Entrepreneurs, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art offers a far-reaching and deeply thoughtful look at the “logics and aesthetics” of life online. Treating the Internet as a global, transformative work of art, the book explores the ways we read, see, listen, and collaborate across this vast, uncertain, and exciting medium. The book has garnered high praise from a variety of major publications and personalities. “Goddamn, Virginia Heffernan is brilliant,” writes Lena Dunham. The New Republic proclaims: “This is sumptuous writing, saturated with observations that are simultaneously personal, cultural, and strikingly original—and she’s writing about software.” The New Yorker says “She writes with flair. Heffernan is good company.” Slate writes that “My copy of Magic and Loss is sloppily scrawled with all caps pencilings of words like ‘YES!’ and ‘TRUTH!’” The New York Review of Books calls it “an ecstatic narrative of submission.” And Gwyneth Paltrow writes that Heffernan is “one of the writers I most admire.” Beyond these publications, the book has been profiled or reviewed in Vogue, Esquire, The Creators Project, Maclean’s, NPR, The Fader, Lit Hub, Business Insider, Salon, Publishers Weekly, and many more.
Heffernan is much more than a book club darling—her vision of hyper-connected life in action has made her an invaluable business sage. Having worked to reorient and inspire the likes of PayPal and Earnest, as well as major venture firms in San Francisco and New York, Heffernan’s insights are employable at the ground level, equipping companies with vision to see their own desires in action while keeping brand identities intact.
“Heffernan is a new species of wizard, able to perform literary magic upon supersonic technology.”— Kevin Kelly
On Salon.com’s official Presidential podcast, Trumpcast, Heffernan steps in as charismatic host in Jacob Weisberg’s absence. Additionally, she was the “Machine Politics” and “Appitude” columnist at Yahoo! News. From 2006 to 2011, she wrote television criticism and The Medium column for The New York Times Magazine. She’s regularly requested by a range of institutions—universities, libraries, Fortune 100 corporations, political organizations, and ad agencies. She is a sought-after speaker on the idea of leveraging the intrinsic capabilities of the Internet for cultural, political, and professional purposes. A former editor at Harper’s and Slate, she has her Master’s and a Ph.D in English literature from Harvard.
“Your talk was fabulous: the perfect blend of engaging, smart observation and provocation that one prays for at the beginning of a conference. Everyone was quoting you. People who came late and didn’t make it to the talk were plainly jealous of their colleagues who did. I owe you big time for getting our conference off to a terrific start with ideas that kept us fueled until the end.”National Gallery of Art
The challenge for anyone in business online—that’s all of us—is that we must suggest to customers the vast depth of a company's resources, innovation and inventory while keeping our interface thoroughly human. Approachable. Trustworthy. Honest. This is what Virginia Heffernan calls the Tickle-Me-Elmo challenge: How to be sure we signal engineering innovation but wrap it in soft and accessible fur.
As a consultant to VCs, startups and companies from PayPal to Impossible Foods to Earnest, Heffernan has made her groundbreaking, bestselling ideas about digital culture practical and actionable. With careful attention to content strategy, design cues and canny deployment of images and video, she offers case studies of companies (Amazon, Google, YouTube, Instagram, Netflix and more) that have cracked the code.
By showing how digital and hybrid companies can furnish their users and customers with the stress-relief, delight and inspiration they need, Heffernan offers concrete solutions to how to connect with customers, cultivate them, and build brands they love.
Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) offers a fascinating keynote explaining the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet.
Since its inception, the Internet has morphed from merely an extension of traditional media into its own full-fledged civilization. It is among mankind’s great masterpieces—a massive work of art. As an idea, it rivals monotheism. We all inhabit this fascinating place. But its deep logic, its cultural potential, and its societal impact often elude us. Life online, in the highly visual, social, portable, and global incarnation, rewards certain virtues. The new medium favors speed, accuracy, wit, prolificacy, and versatility, and its form and functions are changing how we perceive, experience, and understand the world.
In this entertaining, accessible, and thoughtful talk, Heffernan presents an original and far-reaching analysis of what the Internet is and does. She shows how the Internet is much more than a new technology or new business, but a ubiquitous yet seldom examined world that is profoundly changing the way we live.
Many companies underestimate how immersive and robust Internet culture is. They fail to recalibrate their messages for an online world that is rapidly displacing traditional media as the hub of conversation, content viewing, shopping. In this talk, Virginia Heffernan shows businesses how to capitalize on the intrinsic (and limitless) possibilities of the Internet. What are the important distinctions between the Internet and, say, television or print? How do Internet users think, behave, search, watch and consume? Plain spoken and lively, Heffernan offers corporate audiences—product sellers, service providers, content producers—an abundance of insight and real-world examples. The Internet is not just a reformation of stuff found in the real world. The Internet is its own world, with its own rules of engagement, its own expectations. It’s a force to be reckoned with—and profited from.