Blog Posts by Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News

  • My son’s iTunes spending spree: How do we teach the value of a dollar to kids who never see money?

    By Virginia Heffernan

    My heart sank as the email poured in.

    iTunes Store Your receipt No.204045886694. Your receipt No.204045886695. Your receipt No.204045886696. Your receipt No.204045886697. Your receipt No.204045886698. Your receipt No.204045886699.

    Sure, I’m capable of staying up after 11 p.m., mainlining Sinead O’Connor b-sides from Apple’s infernal riverboat casino and meth lab, but this wasn’t one of those times. This was one of those other times.

    One of the times when my 7-year-old son Ben stays up after 8 p.m. psychically imperiling himself with exposure to the satanic video game DragonVale. DragonVale is not satanic because it makes you think violent or impure thoughts, or minces that cognitive phantom called an attention span. It’s satanic in the plainer, less refutable way: DragonVale takes your money and takes it and takes it, like a pernicious con game should.

    “IN-APP PURCHASES,” said the woman on the Apple hotline.

    “Inapt?” I foolishly asked, still trembling with fury at my

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  • Appitude: Can using Lift on your phone make you a better person?

    By Virginia Heffernan

    I have a lot of new habits in 2013, but no new habit is more firmly entrenched than thinking about my new habits. I tick off boxes: spent time outside, meditated, stretched, deleted emails. Done done done and done. Then I give other people props for the same practices. You surfed? You did Deepak Chopra's meditation challenge? You completed sun salutations seven mornings in a row and then installed some email filters? Props to all of you!

    This box-checking and witness-bearing is time-consuming. But I'm into it. All because a new app called Lift, designed to promote new habits and enmesh you in a community of Ben Franklins who love a well-checked box, has found its way to my iPhone.

    Instead of texting, these days--all right I still text like a fiend, but maybe I'm briefer--I have started to savor Lift's lists of "trending" habits, "popular" habits and "easiest" habits. Since one habit I'm always meaning to get into is "be more like other people," I'm heavily

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  • Appitude: The newest Twitter trend—sharing six-second videos on Vine—is surprisingly retro

    By Virginia Heffernan

    If you believe a nubile new video app called Vine is sweeping the nation because Vine is a masterpiece or at least a better mousetrap, think again. Vine—which hit the Web last week and lets you share looping, six-second videos on Twitter—is just fine and plenty fun, but Vine is not suddenly everywhere on the Internet because it’s extra-special. It’s not even everywhere because someone used it to tweet porn early in the game, and Vine accidentally endorsed a XXX vid. No. Vine is everywhere because it belongs to Twitter.

    In other words, she’s pretty cool and she’s the boss’s daughter. No wonder she’s the debutante of the season.

    The Twitter story reverses the “Field of Dreams” vision of “if you build it, he will come.” Instead, with Twitter, we showed up—some 300 million Twitter users now—for what was initially a fairly thin set of text communications protocols. But we stayed on Twitter because other people did, and then they came because we were all there, learning

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  • Happy anniversary, Jane Austen, spinster god

    The binge and purge of 'Pride and Prejudice'

    “An old maid writes with the detachment of a god.”

    In honor of the bicentennial of the publication of “Pride and Prejudice,” I give you the above words by D.A. Miller, America's most swashbuckling reader of Jane Austen.

    That’s the central mystery of Jane Austen’s novels. And what a mystery it is. The author’s voice, though we’re always reminded it belonged to a sour-faced spinster who couldn’t score a husband to save her life, flatly refuses to make itself meek. Meek? Jane Austen’s voice doesn’t even make itself human.

    Rather, the Austen world spirit sweeps in omnisciently to “Pride and Prejudice,” which turns 200 today, laying down universal truths like Solomon or HAL. From there it manipulates the pouts and slaps and rosy countenances of all the single ladies—the Catherines and Elizabeths and Emmas—all the coquettes, ingénues and hysterics for whom Jay McInerney and all of us wild-eyed Janeites still pine.

    The sadistic Austen voice brings authority, stern judgment and only the ghost of

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  • How many Bolivians are dying because foodies love quinoa?

    By Virginia Heffernan

    A long time ago, “Bolivian marching powder” meant cocaine.

    Now it could mean quinoa. Quinoa is a massive crop that for millennia has honed its extraterrestrial nutritional powers in the dizzying altitudes of the Andes. In recent years, this curious substance—like coke before it—has also become a major export for Peru and Bolivia.

    But, as the Guardian recently reported, the foreign market for the good seed has driven the street price of quinoa up so high that most Bolivians and Peruvians can no longer afford their homegrown staple. For the people who used to live on it, protein-dense quinoa is now more expensive than chicken. That’s rich.

    Denied their indigenous marching grain (technically a “pseudocereal”), Bolivian and Peruvian peasants are turning to junk food—the same sugary bunk that sickens and malnourishes millions of us in the U.S. And thus we net a nifty parable of globalism, progress and nutrition, with one clear upshot: Foodism, like every other

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  • Appitude: Hundreds is a dream of a game

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Imagine yourself expanding—broadening your horizons, dilating on a subject, swelling with pride. Dwell on that sensation a moment. Feel your neurons inflate. Next imagine navigating a crowd in that expansive state, flinching to keep from touching anyone else.

    Then conjure the feeling of trying to get someone alone—away from the throngs, where you can talk to him. Next think about doing all this while trying to avoid the blades of a low ceiling fan.

    These cognitive fragments and half-narrative flows and other pieces—far stranger—are activated by "Hundreds," a chic, new iOS puzzle from Semi Secret Software.

    I’d say the game is dreamy, if your dreams are immaculately clean, defined by grayscale geometry and ambient techno music. (Mine aren’t.) I will say that, no matter what part of your subconscious this cerebral game caresses, the chill-erotic music of Loscil from Kranky music is one of its loveliest components.

    Shifting mental seas define the experience of

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  • Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013: a computer hacker who is now a political martyr

    By Virginia Heffernan

    "Aaron Swartz's death is a loss for all humanity," Jacob Applebaum, a distinguished hacker, said by email to me today.

    He was a "Web genius," wrote Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard Law School professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

    But just after Swartz died, on Friday, Lessig had wondered about another epithet used to describe him. “The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Swartz be labeled a 'felon.'"

    Aaron Swartz was a hacker-activist and a committed liberator of information. Facing federal charges, a possible sentence of 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine, for downloading subscription-only academic papers with the intent to distribute them, Swartz hanged himself in his apartment in Brooklyn on Friday. He was 26.

    Sample papers Swartz attempted to set free include "John Berryman: The Poetics of Martyrdom" and "Mapping the Niger, 1798-1832: Trust, Testimony and 'Ocular

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  • CES 2013: Shhh, don’t tell, but Las Vegas likes secrets, even at a trade show

    By Virginia Heffernan

    LAS VEGAS—In a leather banquette in a sparkling Las Vegas club, a knockout blonde discreetly kicked the Louis Vuitton bag at her feet.

    “It’s in there,” she whispered to me, conspiratorially. I followed this dame’s fishnet-clad legs down to her shoe’s pointed toe. Beautiful bag. “I call it the football,” she said. “I’m not going to bring it out yet.”

    Leslie Bradshaw’s honey-colored Cali perfection brings to mind a young Cheryl Tiegs, but tonight she’s gone for broke in showgirl makeup, smoky eyes and red lipstick. I love her on sight.

    'Til this moment on Wednesday night I knew only of Leslie, the co-founder and chief operating officer of JESS3, a brilliant and profitable data-visualization firm. I knew her from Twitter and tech blogs and magazines, where she’s forever featured as a top everything—woman, entrepreneur, kid genius—under 30. (She’s now 30.)

    And now Leslie Bradshaw was hiding something. A new drug? A lap-dance voucher? We are in Vegas, after all.

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  • The gargantuan, terrifying, disfiguring Ultra-HD TVs at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show

    By Virginia Heffernan

    LAS VEGAS—Ever since man first got his greasy, prehensile mitts on touch screens—let’s say six years ago—he’s been pinching and zooming and otherwise pawing at stuff to make it change size.

    This year’s Consumer Electronics Show proves we’re still at it—but with real, three-dimensional objects now. Everything is blowing up: The smartphone is becoming a superphone. The tablet is becoming a 20-inch manwich. There is a 110-inch terrifyingly ultra high-def flat-screen television set on display here!

    One look at that TV and your internal wiring shorts, like those wiggy Victorian dudes flinching at the first movies. YIKES! Why does everything in giganto ultra-HD look hallucinatorily real and heart-stoppingly huge?!? Are my children OK? Is a woolly mammoth coming for me?

    Little, light nanos and micros and minis are not much in evidence here. Unless they have been blocked from vision by those 110-inch gargantuans from Samsung and Toshiba.

    The conclusion that no one

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  • Appitude: Decluttering your mobile phone is a good way to start the New Year

    By Virginia Heffernan

    The New Year is not the time to get a new app. Your iPhone is bloated; it can barely load the apps you already have. It is groaning under the weight of all those "productivity" gimcracks you stuffed onto it in 2012. Nothing can update. The battery is a sieve. The phone is in a stupor. You don't need apps. You need a svelte, swift and actually smart smartphone--the kind that only an elimination diet can achieve.

    First: turn off push notifications and location services. These give the battery migraines by constantly recruiting juice for their chronic silliness. Some child put an app called Dragon Story on my phone. Now I get pressing bulletins telling me my loyal subjects miss me and need my attention. A dram of actual guilt in me is activated by this appeal to my sense of lordly responsibility. But more than that the battery has had to bestir itself to serve me this non-news. No wonder I'm down to 85 percent before the sun's up.

    Location services work the same way.

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Pagination

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