I have followed the internet, and Virginia Heffernan’s career documenting it, for more than a decade. And I have anxiously awaited this book since her column first hinted at magic and loss in 2011, and when she previewed her personal journey with the internet at length in her 2012 Berkman Center talk, “The Digital Dialectic.” When I graduated in 2007 with a joint degree in English Literature and Film Studies, I looked to Heffernan’s column as confirmation that the shifts in digital culture I cared about mattered, and that the humanities had something to bring to the conversation as we were figuring out what the internet meant, together. Like Heffernan, I was drawn to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society its co-founder Jonathan Zittrain—where people were thinking about what this internet thing meant to the world. Full disclosure, I've always kind of envied her job. So, here's my review of Heffernan's Magic and Loss, and why it matters to expand our notion of what technology criticism is and what it can do for us.
As we begin to take the internet for granted, it’s more important than ever to recognize the need for robust and diverse technology criticism. We grapple with which metrics we should use to judge Facebook’s integrity in serving us, as a social platform or as a journalistic entity. Wealthy Silicon Valley VCs with a grudge can ruin entire publications by throwing their weight behind lawsuits. Publishers tiptoe around criticizing tech companies because social platforms and newsfeeds control access to their audiences. We need to stop seeing technology criticism as destructive; rather, it gives us the opportunity to shape the future of technology in our everyday lives. Heffernan’s nuanced example in Magic and Loss expands the notion of what technology criticism can and should be.
Read more at Columbia Journalism Review.