I’m generally a fan of Virginia Heffernan, The Medium columnist for The New York Times. I geeked out when I heard she’d be interviewing open source graffiti artist James Powderly at SXSWi. I may have had star dust in my eyes.
Since I began following Ms. Heffernan, I’ve consistently thought she makes astute observations about our intimacy with screens—phones, computers, Kindle, television—and what’s on them, even if those relationships are shrouded in a jumble of words and alliteration. Although her pieces are completely syncopated against the release date of the subjects she writes about, she always manages to illumine them in a new way. But lately, I’ve had this dreadful feeling that Ms. Heffernan’s work is going downhill; she posts less often, rarely engages her readers and her writing and issues are out in left field. Case in point: today’s article entitled I hate my iPhone.
Ms. Heffernan spends much of her piece blathering about the iPhone‘s 2-D keyboard, it’s cheekiness, the cold and lifeless materials and poor reception. My biggest beef with Virginia is that she may have brought the nearly 500 comments upon herself, many of which label her as a technophobe. And can I say she doesn’t deserve it?
Having been a faithful follower of her blog since I stumbled upon it in mid-2008, I can soundly state Ms. Heffernan is not averse to technology. She declares in her piece that the “failure to appreciate the iPhone was all mine,” but as a mainstream voice, she had the chance to put Apple to task and dissect the concerns of a multitude of iPhone-phobic customers in an intelligent way. The QWERTY keyboard is not the most intuitive, nor is it the most efficient, but instead of making Apple justify their choice of keyboard for the 2.4″ x 4.5″ “tile of technology,” Ms. Heffernan spent a third of her 1,100 word article bashing the keyboard with an anecdote to boot.
AT&T‘s poor reception in NYC has been well covered (see NYT coworkers Sam Grobart‘s post and David Pogue‘s post along with a Google search), but Ms. Heffernan’s failure to expand upon this probably left some of her readers in the dark. The price—a snarky little bit she added at the end—could have been better addressed. One of Virginia’s most salient point was that the iPhone was made first as a computing device and then as a phone, but you could hardly detect its heart beat beneath the mass of words.
I’m most disappointed in Virginia because the way she executed her piece makes her relevant to just a sliver of her audience. Only because I have context for her as a writer and observer will I continue to follow her, but I wouldn’t be surprised if her latest column turned off many potential fans.
And so, a toast to better posts ahead, V-Heff. I’ll be keeping an eye on the RSS feed.