Blog Posts by Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News

  • Apptitude: Wild Pling!

    Why the white-hot messaging app Pling makes Yahoo columnist Virginia Heffernan's heart sing

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Pling is a communication app that lights up the brain’s every pleasure center:

    How delightful, how graceful!
    How surprising, how groovy!
    How beguiling, how simple!
    How necessary!

    Pling, which Apple handsomely featured in its unsung Mac App store, and which is now used in 85 countries, is a voice-texting service.

    In its deadpan-kawai marketing materials—the formidable Droga5 does the app’s chic advertising—Pling promises to “restore nuance to communication.” At the same time, it’s a “faster way to communicate.” So it’s voice. It’s text. It’s fast. It’s nuanced. Such are the paradoxes of Pling.

    Not until you give Pling a gratis whirl will you be able to square all these circles. It’s available, for free, both for iOS and for Macs.

    Pling is loaded with paradoxes, but that’s not to say that Pling is hard to explain. On the contrary, this catnip-for-capitalists app (a fat Pling investment is being announced soon) is nothing if not pitchable.

    In short: Pling lets you

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  • Lena-ing In: Lena Dunham, 'Girls' and what women want

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Who discovered Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s tender delight, “Girls”?

    It sounds like an MGM/Lana Turner conceit, the idea of “discovering” someone. But somehow Dunham—who at 26 seems vulnerable and yet is already an old master—inspires this inquiry. Just as the going myth of Tina Fey is that high priest Lorne Michaels made her and the going myth of Sheryl Sandberg is that higher priest Lawrence Summers found her at Schwab’s lunch counter, so must a powerful mentor have shrewdly seen a spark in Miss Dunham, and charitably extended a hand.

    Let’s cut to the chase and guess, first off, that it was Dunham who long ago found herself. While at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn—the Angkor Wat of kid artsiness—Dunham already claimed fully her own saltatory intelligence, hauntingly beautiful speaking voice and hauntingly unbeautiful body. At 19, while attending Oberlin College, she cast that husky self in a cool masturbation video called “Pressure.”  A year later she

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  • Appitude: My iPhone helps me meditate. Yours can, too

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Buddhism and technology are boon companions. Unlike some home-schooling, cloth-diapering evangelical Christians, or observant Jews—many of whom sanctify weekly abstinence from electricity—Zen types have long expressed nothing short of zeal for digital novelty and global circuits.

    Put it this way: A talk on something called Orgasmic Meditation was right at home at the South by Southwest technology conference earlier this month. What’s more, a whole conference, Wisdom 2.0, asks CEOs and others, “How can we live with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age?” The twinning of tech and Buddhist practice comes across in the name of a popular podcast: “Buddhist Geeks.”

     “Electric circuitry is Orientalizing the West,” pronounced the oracular Marshall McLuhan in 1967. “The contained, the distinct, the separate—our Western legacy—are being replaced by the flowing, the unified, the fused.”

    Perhaps McLuhan was right; in any case, it sounds cool. And so

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  • Goodbye, Boston Phoenix. Unlike Google Reader, you're irreplaceable

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Out with the old—and out with the new. Witness the abrupt folding of the hallowed Boston Phoenix, born 1965, on the same day that Google Reader, born 2005, noisily closed up shop. The yeoman print alt-weekly, founded for Beantown collegians, opted for a supremely discreet exit: On Twitter, just after the staff had been told doors were closing, @bostonphoenix tweeted, “Thank you Boston. Goodbye and good luck.

    But while Google-watchers geekily weighed the financial and technological pros and cons of shuttering Reader, there were sounds not heard in their analyses: Tears. Wails. Rending of garments.

    That was saved for the announced end of the Phoenix. I have to admit, I’m also grieving as I write this. But before I tell you my own misty tale, it should be noted that almost everyone of a certain age in East Coast journalism has a story about the Boston Phoenix. There are, of course, the superstar journalists who cut their teeth on that paper’s trademark scholarly-groovy

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  • Elon Musk's approach to work-life balance really is from Mars

    By Virginia Heffernan

    AUSTIN, Texas — Finally! A man with a fresh new approach to balancing childcare and hard work!

    Spoiler: it involves PILES OF MONEY.

    Family life was the unexpected subject of the sold-out discussion between Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and Chris Anderson, the former editor-in-chief of Wired, at South by Southwest on Saturday.

    The topic was meant to be Musk's zillion androgen-dense projects, many of which have to do with rockets and Mars. But after marveling at Musk's work ethic, Anderson pressed Musk—briefly but spectacularly—on the subject of his five children.

    Musk's answer? "Children are awesome."

    "Awesome" sounded good in Musk's lovely South African accent.

    "But I don't see them much."

    (A friend of mine told me conspiratorially during the talk that Musk was divorced from the mother of his brood, and had had one or two "cheapskate divorces"—which turns out to be well known in billionaire circles.

    Musk went on: "I do email while I'm with my

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  • Appitude: John Paul 2.0? Pius XP? The pope, of course, has an app

    By Virginia Heffernan

    I’m here at overcast South by Southwest, the annual tech-music-film rodeo in Austin, Texas. The cool girls are frantically charging their app-heavy iPhones. In their branded ponchos and awesome New Cure jeans, they’re prepping for a panel shortly on female orgasms.

    Don’t fret: I have no time to chip off cheap jokes on matters so ... profane. I cannot take my eyes or fingers off a much, much more sacred tech adventure: the Pope App.

    I promise I’m not just trying to wrangle #pope and #sxsw—two trending topics on Twitter—into this one piece. Nah, I am just fixated on the work of the Pontificium Consilium de Communicationibus Socialibus. Clever developer name, no? Took lots of focus-grouping; rejected were PONTCN and POHPE.

    Pontificium Consilium de Communicationibus Socialibus is a real shop, a dicastery of the Roman Curia, no less, founded in 1988 and dedicated to the proposition that the gospel must be spread, at all costs—by electronic media, if necessary. This

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  • Email is gross: How I cleaned hairballs of data out of my once-filthy inbox

    By Virginia Heffernan

    At an Apple Genius Bar not long ago, a dead-eyed Genius laboriously backed up my groaning hard drive. As I stared at my database, a wave of disgust nearly knocked me out.

    “Email is gross,” I said.

    Our eyes locked. “Yes,” said the Genius. “God, yes.”

    Five hours later, at home, my email was still backing up with more gross hairballs of data onto the backup disk. Saved for—what reason, again?

    Email is everywhere, like litter in the 1950s: cigarette butts, candy wrappers, supermarket circulars. Every now and then the heap gets too high and we shove it out of sight into anonymous, far-off data storage chambers somewhere in Texas—the fetid noxious Fresh Kills landfills of our digital world.

    Where does all the email end up? I wonder this, for the first time, because email is now a scourge. The once-miraculous digital postal service—first CompuServe then EarthLink now Gmail—that was my joyous gateway to the World Wide Web years ago is now a hideous obstacle to footloose

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  • Movies for the masses, straight to the Web

    The Oscars still ignore Internet video. Don’t let that stop you from watching, or making, Sunday’s Best Vine

    By Virginia Heffernan

    On Sunday night, American television sets will once again host the freakish masked ball known as the Oscars. Demigods will glide importantly down a synthetic staple-gunned red scroll, posing, balletically angled, while fielding questions about denim tuxedos and cocktail rings the size of iPhones. Later some of them, on the brink of hysteria, will accept gilded statuettes, and use the word “humble” to mean “proud.”

    The telecast used to be called the Academy Awards—the word “Academy” was once needed to confer gravitas on Hollywood’s popcorn flicks—but just this week the event’s promoters changed its name to The Oscars. Mainstream movies are no longer nervous about being considered pseudo-art, mostly because they’re not the commercial sureshot they once were. When an elite director like Wes Anderson all but needs an NEA grant to make a cute crowdpleaser like “Moonrise Kingdom,” and Paul Schrader (of “Taxi Driver”) has to pass the Kickstarter hat to raise dough for “The

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  • And the award for Best Vine goes to … Adam Goldberg

    How the ‘Saving Private Ryan’ actor became obsessed with Twitter videos

    By Virginia Heffernan

    This week the Academy Awards were officially renamed The Oscars. The rebranding suggests that Hollywood has, finally, lost some of the crippling status anxiety suggested by the creation of the pompously named “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” The Oscars are at last like a J.D. who finally stops calling himself an attorney. He’s self-assured enough to be known as a lawyer.

    It’s high time. The movie business is the granddaddy of American popular entertainment: It not only has a grown son—television—inflicted with status panic, but there’s also a teenage grandson—Internet video—to play enfant terrible.

    That’s why I’m drawn, this Oscar season, to Vine. Vine is Twitter’s spellbinding new video app. We have no idea if it will convulse pop culture as the daguerreotype did in 1837, or the cinematograph in the 1890s. Or YouTube in 2005. Or Twitter in 2006. But the art Vine has engendered doesn’t look like pomp or bids for authority. It looks like actual art.


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  • Appitude: The White House delivers the best, most biased State of the Union coverage anywhere

    By Virginia Heffernan

    As far as I can tell, there’s only one white guy milling around: Joe Biden. Oh and maybe Nick Jonas. Elsewhere, soulfully swaying and crooning in the White House are Sheryl Crow, Jamie Foxx, Jordin Sparks, Seal and Smokey Robinson.

    And also Barack Obama, who before he delivered his first State of the Union speech of his second term on Tuesday night, appeared in a video with the music stars. It’s a mini-doc about the Motown celebration at the White House made by And it’s really good.

    In preparation for the president’s speech, I watched it toe-tappingly on Tuesday, on my phone, using the White House app, which I have been avoiding for as long as I’ve known what an app is.

    I will avoid the app no longer. The White House makes excellent video, and it’s time to face that the White House covers itself—when you count the all-important challenges of digital distribution and don’t care about favoritism, that old-media bogeyman—better than any journalist

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