Magic and Loss – Book Notes

magic-and-loss-9781439191705_hr.jpgVirginia Heffernan has calmly gone about her business observing, creating and now taking us beyond the veil of media.  Magic and Loss is an autobiography of the internet. We may have found our internet incarnate.

When you scan the contents you see a simple line-up. Design, Text, Images, Video, Music and something called Even if You Don’t Believe in It. You think to yourself, self, this is going to be a breeze. Then you start reading. OMG.

Ms. Heffernan fills 242 pages with one reference after another. All artfully placed as proof that what she writes is truth. She shows us the internet is more culture than technology. In fact she posits technology takes second chair to society as well as history. That the internet is the Star Trek transporter we wished for but no longer need.

Two sages in particular came to mind while reading Magic and Loss. Sherry Turkle with her watershed Life on the Screen. Marshall McLuhan, who envisioned the internet and then encapsulated it on paper, because that was the only tool he had. The comparison I make is one of immersion. Of mastery of a domain and the ability to record it. The act of writing it down differentiates itself from experience.


Once you enter the labyrinth there is really no way out. It’s like turning on the camera once a scene has started and turning it off before it ends. You get a compelling snippet but no context, and you don’t care. Design on the internet is all over the place. No one knows what it should or could be. In this section she tells us stories about what people did to evolve what we saw online. That was design. It was made up on the fly. Bitmaps, languages, cognitive orientation.


“The history of digitization is the history of reading.” Text matters, but writing matters more. None of it matters unless someone reads. Reading on the internet is oddly much harder. She talks about how the internet denies us a break. We don’t get white space or a respite from the tsunami of information. She observes that, “Americans read with highlighters.” Information is what we’re after so we can sound important and knowledgable. Then she fell in love with the Kindle. Regardless, we are always reading. Reading is everything. The internet has, in my opinion, disrupted the ritual of reading with videos, graphics, maps, images, music. We have a new reading paradigm. I’m still adjusting. Ms. Heffernan points out that the brilliance of Confucius almost never exceeded 140 characters. That Twitter got so much right. The poetry of the internet.


The tapping or words. “The Blackberry was a literate device.” It turned us into heads down mops who couldn’t wait to read or type (that keyboard was so good) a reply. Ms. Heffernan reminds us that the iPhone changed words and took advantage of “symbolic communication.” Then came Flickr, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat and Instagram. She closes this chapter by telling us our now ubiquitous camera is for capturing our personal moments. There is no time lag between shutter snap and image viewing. We see it. We capture it. We are.


In this chapter we are taken from the first YouTube video post through the golden age of television, which apparently was not all that golden. “It was a colossal waste of time.” I don’t agree. I always scheduled my TV time carefully and for many years in the 1970’s I didn’t even own a television. A long time ago in my mailbox was discovered a Nielsen TV ratings diary. It contained a crisp, new one dollar bill and an ernest note that told me the future depended on me (the fools). They asked me to fill in my viewing behavior each day for seven days. I was so proud to send it back completely blank. I kept the dollar.

This chapter is potentially a turning point in the book. Her choice to place video ahead of music puzzles me. I would say that more has taken place in video than music. We now regularly attend 3D movies and Virtual Reality (Oculus) is potentially a powerful spark to something really accessible. But, are these part of the internet?


She loved her iPod, as did I. I still keep my iPod fully charged and filled with over 12,000 songs. From my cold dead hands will it ever be separated from me. Music continues to be the rhythm of my life. It’s everywhere. It has meaning. It’s accessible. I consumed vinyl then 8-Tracks followed by cassettes, then compact discs.

Eventually we got the MP3. I thought it was a new element on the periodic table. Not so. It was a trick of the mind to make us believe we were still listening to music. Those of us of a certain age know that digital music is a sonic betrayal. I went to hundreds of concerts. Things were removed by the MP3 in the name of compression. There was a need to skinny down the richness so it could pass through the eye of the internet. It is here, finally on page 183 that Ms. Heffernan first writes the words magic and loss.

The chapter goes on to explore music encapsulated inside no less than fifty references. Even if we knew them all we would never be able to conjure them up and make the connection to music. She closes Music with a reminiscence. Vinyl records as a fireplace of sound bringing to mind discussions with friends and long phone calls (land lines). Yes, Ms. Heffernan, I did perfect the art of courting girls with calls via dial tone. I miss those days as well.


She wraps up this amazing tome with a wide swath of history references. As with many of those pointers, I got lost, but never felt left behind. Ms. Heffernan always brought me back to the present and did it by pointing toward the future. Her book was both a challenge and a pleasure. It took me months to work up the courage to write about it. Still today, I find it hard to categorize, which adds to the importance of measuring the balance between magic and loss.

In Closing:

Clearly Ms. Heffernan has done us a service. She is a rare digital citizen. Top of the house. I learned a lot and was inspired to do more research and chase down those interesting references. What I wanted to read more of was her personal story. When spotted, those moments provided welcome texture and joyful nostalgia. It made this unique work more accessible.

Magic and Loss is a serious, realistic work that owes a lot to culture. It’s the blueprint of the past and a template for the future of media.


Money 2020 Part 3 of 3: Tech Crime Takes Off

One of the most fascinating aspects of Money for me was sessions on fraud, security and of course hacking. I attended a keynote by Marc Goodman who started as a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles. He has been studying criminal behavior for years and has paired that knowledge with technology and of course the internet. He founded The Future Crimes Institute which is devoted to looking at where technology crime is going next. He painted a grave picture of what is happening and what could happen.

The evolution of crime was first low tech. A bad guy would come up to you, flash a gun or knife and you’d hand over your wallet. Pretty unsophisticated and hard to scale. One person at a time is a hard way to make a living. When trains came along the bad guys were suddenly able to rob two hundred people at a time. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Mr. Goodman recounted an event that took place in an undisclosed casino. The bad guys hacked their way into the casino security cameras and were now able to see what was happening at all the gaming tables. They sent in their gambling marks with ear pieces and directed them what hands to play. Before they were done they socked away $34 Million. Ultimate scale. The very system the casino owners installed to stop cheating was used for the express purpose of cheating and no one even knew it was going on.


In Mexico, Cartel guys have set up a countrywide cellphone network. Cell towers able to cover all 31 states, fully encrypted and available only to their own. Imagine creating a Sprint or AT&T type personal network.

Folks, robbing banks is over, forever.

He then took us even deeper into the abyss, down to the Dark Web. Free and open software programs like Tor can block your identity from networks, traffic analysis for browsers instant messages remote logins and much more. Anonymity is almost completely attainable. With this cloaking device people peruse anonymous marketplaces like the famous Silk Road where you can buy and sell almost anything. Talk about Black Friday.

And if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Goodman basically said anything is hackable. We have learned that retail point of sale systems are very much prone to hacking. As are computers, financial networks, you name it. It’s extending well beyond that into the home. Someone hacked a home baby monitor system and began yelling at the sleeping child using inappropriate language. The parents barged into the room to find no human form. Only a shrill voice coming from the monitor speakers. Do you have security cameras around your house? Have you changed the password from password or 1234 to something harder to crack? If not, go do it now.

Most of the internet traffic runs on the IPv4 protocol. Essentially this protocol serves as storage for all the IP addresses, or devices that can connect to the Internet. It allows for 4.3 Billion IP addresses (devices) to connect. Thought at one time to be quite a lot. Brings back those Y2K days doesn’t it. It turns out that space is nearly depleted, so the internet gods have come up with IPv6 and it is in the process of being rolled out. At this time about 10% of the internet traffic runs on IPv6 with more moving there over time.


If IPv4 can support 4.3 Billion devices, you may be asking how many IP addresses of devices can be connected to IPv6. An excellent question. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 340 Trillion Trillion Trillion devices. A number so big that can’t be grasped in any way. The point is everything that can be connected to the internet will likely become connected and it’s unlikely anyone will be turned down by the information superhighway because of lack of space.


Beyond theft there lies the growing potential that this amazing technology will be exploited by terrorists. This could have far-reaching consequences unless tougher safeguards and protections are developed. I’m very happy Mr. Goodman is on the case.

This ends my Money 2020 summary for 2014. Thank you for reading.

Read Part 1:  The Future of Currency and Payments

Read Part 2:  Mobile Payments and Crypto Currencies

Social Media: It’s Déjà vu All Over Again

From about 1995 to 2003 the departments inside firms who were responsible for establishing and maintaining the enterprise online presence had to do most everything themselves. Jack of all trades if you will. IT of course helped, and eventually agency partners were hired, but for the most part it was a one area show. Those teams had to create content, design functionality, manage the email program, tag the assets, track, report, analyze, even market the sites to customers and prospects. I get exhausted just thinking about those years.

Over time it simply got too big for one team to do it all on their own. And so, tasks were transferred to other areas and assimilated into their everyday work. In most cases those other departments didn’t have digital experience or training, but they did the best they could with what they knew. Now as we are well into the 2010’s, specialists have emerged all over the enterprise and digital is being nicely integrated in many areas. Although we still have more ground to cover, there is progress and more importantly, momentum.

Social Media today is exactly where the web was in the late 1990’s. One team took the initiative to start, learn, stumble and love doing it. Others mostly sat outside the action, despite being intrigued and in wonder at what it may be ale to do for their business.

Learn from the past. Apply it today in social.

It is important to educate as many people as possible across the organization about social. I mean really educate. Not just recite the words Facebook and Twitter. Enlist their talent for creativity and business savvy and get them excited to experiment and learn. Do it now. Things are moving much faster in social than the web moved in the last decade. You won’t have nearly as much time this time around. The sooner you can accomplish this the better it will be for you, your team, your business and most importantly your customers.

Photo: Steve Furman