The internet elicits a vast catalog of thoughts, emotions, and responses: joy, wonder, anger, awe, excitement, frustration, celebration, outrage, laughter, sadness, surprise, pride, disgust, etc., ad infinitum. Since its invention—and especially since the onset of what many experts call Web 2.0—countless articles and books have attempted to not only chronicle the history of the internet and its myriad uses, but also to capture the nature of our often fraught relationship with it.
However, few books have viewed the web as a work of art, the approach taken by journalist and cultural critic Virginia Heffernan in her beautifully written book, Magic and Loss, in which she aims “to build a complete aesthetics—and poetics of the Internet.” The author, who writes about language and digital culture for the New York Times Magazine, divides the book into sections including Design, Text, Images, Video, and Music, and she makes a convincing case that the internet, for all its downsides (time consumption, privacy concerns, etc.), is “the great masterpiece of human civilization…paradigmatic magic” that “turns experiences from the material world that used to be densely physical…into frictionless, weightless, and fantastic abstractions.”
Citing numerous experts on digital culture and content, from Lawrence Lessig to Nicholas Negroponte to Mark Zuckerberg, Heffernan insightfully explores the experience of navigating the internet, no matter the use, showing how it “has a logic, a tempo, an idiom, a color scheme, a politics, and an emotional sensibility all its own.” Thankfully, even though the author is clearly a champion of the internet, she is unafraid of pointing out its negatives and addressing the salient points of its detractors.
As we wrote in a starred review, “in melding the personal with the increasingly universal, Heffernan delivers a highly informative analysis of what the internet is—and can be….a thoroughly engrossing examination of the internet’s past, present, and future.” Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.