It would be beyond unreasonable, of course, to expect a single book to encapsulate all that is the internet. There is no omniscient view. Heffernan sticks to apps, websites, and software programs that mean something to her, as she should, and she investigates certain dimensions that suit her argument. A very American version of the web is integral to her analysis: Chinese and Korean mobile apps, for example, are often visually and functionally busier than the “neat, cute homes far from the Web city center” that Heffernan describes. (Magic and Loss is actually a bit difficult to critique because it does not commit to its own thesis; the boundaries of the argument and subject are undefined, which makes it difficult to know when the book strays and when it succeeds.) But in the absence of a new set of tools for understanding the web, it’s hard to read Magic and Loss as theory with staying power, as a work on par with Sontag’s On Photography or McLuhan’s Understanding Media. It is best read—and, in my case, enjoyed—as a personal document of Heffernan’s own relationship to the web, rich with small wonders, reveries, and illuminations.

The final pages of Magic and Loss caught me off guard. In a surprisingly moving conclusion, Heffernan confronts the traces of death beneath the surface of the Internet and what this could mean for humanity’s engagement with it:

The Internet suggests immortality—comes just shy of promising it—with its magic…. And then, just as suddenly, it stirs grief: the deep feeling that digitization has cost us something very profound. That connectedness is illusory; that we’re all more alone than ever. That our shortcomings and our suffering are all the more painful because they’re built in the mirror of a fathomless and godlike medium that doesn’t suffer, that knows everything, that shows us no mercy or compassion. In those moments death shows through in the regular gaps in Internet service, and it’s more harrowing than ever.

As we continue to invest our time, emotions, and very selves in the internet, the artwork accrues content and value. The great expression of civilization merrily snowballs. But to what end? There is an emptiness to this project, Heffernan implies. We are loving something that cannot love us back. The internet, for all its dazzle, its genuine beauty and wonder, leaks losses.

After a book’s worth of encouragement to embrace, enjoy, and engage with digital forms, this sentiment is all the more striking and, to me, a little bit devastating. This confrontation with grief is no online-only phenomenon, of course. It also sounds a lot like life. Despite spending much of my own time on the internet, and despite a willful effort to internalize Heffernan’s appreciation of the web, to apply the new ideas she offers, to burrow into the aesthetic dimensions of this new existential architecture, by the time I closed the cover on Magic and Loss, I truly longed to do one thing only: log off.