Virginia Heffernan used to encourage her colleagues in the media: Yes, read the comments! Find out who your readers are!
Then some of her readers came after her, publicly shaming her across the web after she wrote a column for Yahoo News called "Why I’m a creationist." Thrown into the deep end, she had to figure out a way to cope.
"The thing I would have said pre-’Twitter coliseum’ is we should constantly submit our immune systems to the vox populi," Heffernan recounted on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. "Afterward, I realized my avatar should not stay away from those things."
In other words: Heffernan lets her Twitter handle, @page88, do the fighting for her, absorbing "sniper fire" and delivering witty comebacks. She came to think of that account as a separate persona that could take the hit on her behalf.
"I made the split between me and my avatar, not out of being evolved, but out of fear of pain," she said.
Formerly a New York Times columnist and still a contributing writer for the NYT, Politico and the Los Angeles Times, Heffernan has authored a new book — as her real self — called "Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art." The "magic" of the title refers to technology that is hard to create, but feels simple and "Jony Ive-esque" to its users, she said; the "loss" refers to how this new technology often displaces or replaces old tech.
"If you like compasses and sextants, the GPS has made those obsolete," Heffernan said. "If you like newsprint, if you like the smell of moldy bindings of a library, then that might be something that we’re losing."
She also discussed, however, the signs that not everything will be digitized. Vinyl records and live concerts have seen a resurgence, and the hot app du jour of young people — Snapchat — is pushing against long-standing trends.
"The internet is infinitely searchable and archivable," she said. "What does Snapchat do, in its infinite brilliance, but make vanishing, dying, decaying stuff that doesn’t last forever?"
(Speaking of decaying stuff — this interview touches on Heffernan's time at Yahoo News, but was recorded before Yahoo agreed to sell its core business to Verizon for nearly $5 billion).
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.