Virginia Heffernan (born August 8, 1969) is an American journalist and cultural critic. She has worked as a staff writer for The New York Times — first as a TV critic, then as a magazine columnist, and then as an opinion writer. She has also worked as a senior editor for Harper's, a founding editor of Talk, a TV critic for Slate, a fact checker for The New Yorker and a national correspondent for Yahoo News. Her 2016 book Magic and Loss: The Internet As Art argues that the Internet is a "massive and collective work of art" and a "work in progress", and that the suggested deterioration of attention spans in response to it is a myth. Heffernan is known as a playful, stylish and erudite writer; in 2014 Ben Yagoda in the Chronicle of Higher Education named her among his top candidates for "best living writer of English prose", and she has been called "one of the mothers of the Internet".
Virginia Heffernan was born in Hanover, New Hampshire. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Virginia (1991) and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She also received an English Literature Master's Degree (1993) and Ph.D (2002) from Harvard University.
Heffernan began her career as a fact-checker with The New Yorker magazine. She served as a senior editor at Harper's and founding editor of Talk magazines, and as TV critic for the online magazine Slate.
In June 2002, the Columbia Journalism Review named Heffernan one of its "Ten Young Editors to Watch". In September of the following year, Heffernan departed Slate to join The New York Times. While there, she started the blog "Screens" for the New York Times website, which eventually became "The Medium" blog (named after her column).
In February 2012, she became a national correspondent for Yahoo News, where she covered the 2012 presidential election and wrote about subjects related to media, technology, politics and culture. In June 2013, Heffernan began a series of articles for Yahoo News, entitled "Glass Menagerie", on her experiences using Google Glass OHMD.
In her journalism, Heffernan writes about culture and technology using methods of literary criticism. Her work often centers on the human side of technology, and culture in general, and she advocates broader and more critical thinking with regard to newer technologies.
Heffernan is the co-host of the Slate Trumpcast podcast with Jacob Weisberg. In it, she and Weisberg evaluate and critique the presidency of Donald Trump, interviewing guests like Yascha Mounk, Fareed Zakaria, David Corn and more.
In 2005, Heffernan (with co-writer Mike Albo) published the comic novel, The Underminer. The MTV documentary on the murder of Matthew Shepard, Matthew's Murder—for which Heffernan wrote the script—was nominated for an Emmy award.
Heffernan has been online since the age of ten, when she used a Zenith computer terminal and dial-up modem at home to play a MUD at Dartmouth College. Her book about digital culture, Magic and Loss: The Internet As Art (Simon & Schuster) was published in June 2016. In this, Heffernan argued that the Internet is "the great masterpiece of civilization, a massive and collective work of art". The book was well-received, earning a starred Kirkus review, and showing up on summer reading lists, including those of Gwyneth Paltrow and Lenny Letter. Paltrow called Heffernan, "One of the writers I most admire", The New York Review of Books called it "an ecstatic narrative of submission", and The Wall Street Journal described it as "An illuminating guide to the internet". Writing in The New Yorker, Louis Menand wrote that "Heffernan is smart, her writing has flair, she can refer intelligently to Barthes, Derrida, and Benjamin—also to Aquinas, Dante, and Proust—and she knows a lot about the Internet and its history. She is good company."
In July 2013, Heffernan published an article entitled "Why I'm a creationist". In this, Heffernan stated that "I have never found a more compelling story of our origins than the ones that involve God", and that she was "considerably less amused and moved by the character-free Big Bang story ("something exploded") than by the twisted and picturesque misadventures of Eve and Adam". She concluded by quoting author Yann Martel's summary of the subtext of his novel, Life of Pi: "1) Life is a story, 2) You can choose your story, 3) A story with God is the better story". In a subsequent discussion on Twitter with the popular science writer Carl Zimmer, Heffernan clarified her stance — "I'm a creationist on aesthetic grounds".
Heffernan received much criticism for her column. Critics responded to her postmodern stance, several quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts". However, writing in The Guardian, Andrew Brown dismissed Heffernan's critique of evolution, but noted that: "[s]he is certainly not a young-earth creationist ... [b]ut she wants stories where people find hope and courage in the events of the world around them, and she finds them in religion, not in science". Her column subsequently provided the subject for a debate in The New York Times.
In a later interview on CBC Radio, Heffernan said of the column, "I meant to chronicle my own admittedly arbitrary intellectual evolution around the subject of the origins of the cosmos and the origins of human consciousness. It had slowly dawned on me that journalists were expected to share a consensus about the origins of those things. And I wasn't in that consensus and I wanted to speak up ... I only chronicled how that belief came into my own life".
Heffernan lives in Brooklyn Heights with her two children.
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