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 most recent 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".
Background and education
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.
Books and TV
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.
Her book about digital culture, MAGIC AND LOSS: The Internet As Art (Simon & Schuster) came out 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 by Gwyneth Paltrow and the Lenny Letter. Paltrow called Heffernan, "One of the writers I most admire," and The New York Review of Books called it "an ecstatic narrative of submission."
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.
- Heffernan, Virginia (1999). Bonney, Jo, ed. Extreme Exposure: An Anthology of Solo Performance Texts from the Twentieth Century. Theatre Communications Group. ISBN 1559361557.
- Heffernan, Virginia (2002). Casey, Nell, ed. Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression. William Morrow Paperback. ISBN 0060007826.
- Heffernan, Virginia (2002). The Threat of American Life: Literary Defensiveness at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century (Ph.D.). Harvard University.
- Heffernan, Virginia (2004). Bauer, Douglas, ed. Prime Times: Writers on their Favorite TV Shows. Harper Perennial. ISBN 1400081149.
- Albo, Mike; Heffernan, Virginia (2005). The Underminer: The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 1582344841.
- Heffernan, Virginia (2011). Brockman, John, ed. Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future. Harper Perennial. ISBN 0062020447.
- Heffernan, Virginia (2014). Brockman, John, ed. What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night. Harper Perennial. ISBN 006229623X.
- Heffernan, Virginia (2016). Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art. ISBN 9781439191705.