Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art

A Review by Wayne Johnson

Virginia Heffernan’s Magic and Loss (Simon & Schuster, release date June 7, 2016) simply defies categorization. When selecting it as their #1 New Release for this week, Amazon’s curators classified it as “Philosophy Aesthetics”, in dizzying company with the late Umberto Eco’s History of Beauty. As Professor of Semiotics at Bologna University, Eco taught and wrote about signs, symbols and syntax, which it turns out has a lot to do with aesthetics.

While aesthetics is principally about apprehending taste and beauty, the discipline also explores light and shadow, discerning edges, texture and color. Heffernan appears to move effortlessly from discussing with childlike wonder her first email address, to witnessing her first online video, the iconic Funtwo upload titled guitar, to the transition from what she terms parataxis – “all that black space” – to hypotaxis, the Internet screen that is completely filled out and planned for us, the users. When we consider that Funtwo posted that video only ten years ago, on January 25, 2006, and that at the time YouTube was only three months old, it is understandable that we might not have yet looked back upon the immersive experience, to consider what exactly it was we were experiencing. It turns out that along with being an entertainment venue, job market, soap box and coffee klatsch, the Internet is also a giant work of art in progress.

The concept was so odd to me that I did not at first understand it. I was distracted by Heffernan’s prose, at once both careful and exuberant. More than once I was reminded of Marilynne Robinson, and was not surprised to find a reference to her on the next to last page of Magic and Loss. There are differences, to be sure. The city technology writer and the Iowa novelist. While Heffernan occasionally uses the language which younger women seem to get away with, in her discussion of Robinson it’s clear that she is attracted by the Pulitzer Prize winner’s overt Christian themes. And they are both very gifted at the art of essay.

Heffernan, some may recall, sent the literati into spasm when as the science and technology writer for Yahoo she announced one day that she simply could not accept the evolutionary account of creation. It mattered not that her objections were largely for aesthetic reasons. The denunciations were, as expected, immediate and unqualified. It was widely predicted that she was through as a critic and writer and would “never work in this town again.” The fact that she currently writes a language column for The New York Times Magazine stands as mute testimony to the folly of those predictions. She was, and is, simply too smart to be dismissed, and far too engaging as a writer. She is by most accounts one of the best prose writers in English, although you don’t grasp that at first, because she writes in a way that you understand and, well, that seems like cheating.

In The Portrait of a Scholar and Other Essays Written in Macedonia 1916-1918, Robert William Chapman eulogizes “The Death of Syntax”, and with it English prose. (“What has been admired or derided as the style of Charles Dickens does not deserve to be called a style. It is a mere collection of indifferent tricks. Anthony Trollope, who is free from mannerism, is entirely without style. His writing is not offensive, and at its best it has an attractive simplicity; but at its worst might also be called illiterate….”). The critiques are withering, and we stand in awe that the language has survived to the present day despite this century old post mortem. Elizabethan English had “juvenile elasticity”, but as the language reached its zenith, all that was left to Chapman was to observe here and there the beauty in its decay.

Though Chapman was a gifted and even entertaining critic, he sold English short. Nowhere is that more obvious than on the Internet, where literally everyone can join the conversation. The laboratory of linguistic growth and change that Chapman saw in everyday speech, and which he thought was by its commonplace incapable of effecting linguistic change within the social circles that mattered, has suddenly come into its own as laboratory and as art-in-progress.

Explaining how this came about is Heffernan’s task as she walks us through the early moments of the Internet, from its anti-graphical keystroke driven blackness, to pallet and connectivity. We learn about the battles over design, text, images, video and music. Who won, and who lost. And though it is a history of sorts, it is a story told by a docent who seems almost lost in awe at the works she describes – almost. She never leaves the reader, and is never at a loss for words. We do not object when she digresses, as she does in a chapter called “Reading is Lurking” in which she grants permissions that we want and need.

After confessing that in the early years online she read voraciously “websites devoted to parenting, consumer electronics, celebrity gossip, furniture design, health anomalies, and real estate…To the sites’ message boards, which I used to follow avidly, I contributed a total of three overwritten comments. They sank like stones.”

“Was lurking a violation of web ethics” she asks, “or a return to luxurious nonparticipatory reading?” Lurking she explains, is what we used to call reading. “When I lurk, I relax, fall silent, become a cosseted baroness whose electronic servants bring her funny pictures and distracting tales. I have no responsibilities. I’m entirely on intake. If I were reading Knausgaard or Anita Shreve this way, I’d be an NEA-certified exemplar of civilization.”

So there.

Those of us who work in the digital world must consciously stop and take note, since we are hard-wired to move fast and live in the moment of a digital environment always in flux. It turns out that it is worth stopping. It is worth taking note.

Wayne Johnson is President of Gateway Media, a national digital media agency based in Sacramento, CA. He is also Editor of the history quarterly Leben.

A McLuhan Take on the Bern

And why Republicans should be getting smoked right now


Actually, some Republicans are getting smoked right now on a cost-per-vote basis, most notably Jeb Bush. Jeb’s campaign committees just spent somewhere north of $35 million dollars on television in New Hampshire. That works out to about $1,150 per vote, which is actually an improvement over the $2,835 per vote he spent in Iowa.

Were the ads any good? Who knows, and apparently, who cares? The issue of the hour isn’t the quality of the creative, but the medium of the message because, as Marshall McLuhan put it “the medium is the message.”  What he meant by that was that the form of a medium, such as television, embeds itself in the experience and becomes part of the message. What we have witnessed may well be the impossibility of communicating the notion of relevancy through the medium of a political ad on television. The medium, in effect, was a buzzkill.

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Why that 19-year-old with a cell phone may be the most important person in your campaign this year.

2016 is the year campaigns will either live or die on social media. And frankly, most candidates aren’t ready for it.

To put it bluntly, if you are not already talking with your voters on social media, you’re behind. It’s really that simple. And note, we said talking with, not at. It’s a conversation.

Last year, we won the Gold for “Best Use of Facebook Advertising” and “Best Online Campaign”. We know Facebook really well, and since most of your online spending needs to go on Facebook and Instagram, we’ll use them as examples. And yes, in the world of social media, last year was a lifetime ago, but FIVE things we learned still matter.

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Use VoterLink’s voter files to target voters on Facebook

Great News for Candidates, Elected Officials and Campaign Managers!

VoterLink_GMYou can now target Facebook advertising messages to Voters in your district using VoterLink’s enhanced voter files through Gateway Media.

If you already have a Facebook ad account, these targeted voters lists can be easily added to your audience selection. This will ensure you are engaging voters and not wasting valuable resources on non-voters. If you do not yet have a Facebook ad account, now is the time to set one up.

There is no cost to setup your VoterLink target audiences.

Simply select any target within your district of at least 10,000 individual voter names. That list will then be matched to active Facebook accounts and appear as target audience option on your Facebook account.

Here how:

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Campaigns & Elections Announces Free Voter Lists


Want to only talk to Independents who voted by mail in three of the last four elections? Right in their Facebook News Feed?

No problem says Gateway Media’s Kurt Snow: “We will pull any voter

select in any political district in any of the 50 states and have that target matched to Facebook and waiting in your FB ad account by tomorrow. And did I mention we do all that for free?”

In one fell swoop, Gateway Media has leapfrogged “big data” systems that merely offer educated guesses as to who are, and are not voters in a given target. With the patent-pending Gateway to Facebook technology, “you pick your voter file target and we match that exact list to Facebook. No spillage, no waste, no talking to the wrong people,” added Snow.

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Use L2’s voter file to target your Facebook ad campaign through Gateway to Facebook.


October 26, 2015 by Paul Westcott

You can now match the voter lists from your L2 account directly to your campaign’s Facebook page. All you need to do is visit and open a Gateway to Facebook account to process your lists.

  1. Select L2 as your List Vendor
  2. Select your State and/or District
  3. If you select “All Voters by Party” [Recommended] all voters of each major party will be created in your Facebook Ad Account as a separate custom list. You may also create individual custom selects and upload them through Gateway.
  4. There is no charge for this set-up process, or for the Facebook match for your list. There will be a nominal $2 per thousand charge if and when you use names from these matched lists to target campaign ads or posts. If you decide not to use the lists, there is no charge for the list or the Facebook match. This nominal fee is charged to the credit card you choose, just as with your Facebook ad account.
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