I just read an interesting article by the writer Evgeny Morozov for The New York Times called The Death of Cyberflânerie.
In it Morozov describes how he stumbled across an old article from 1998 describing a bright future for the Internet, celebrating the rise of cyberflânerie.
Basically the internet back then was free and playful, and flânerie was easily possible. But with Facebook’s dominance, people’s experience of the Internet is pretty much limited to Facebook, with occassional consumerist trips and Google-based Q&As. He notes Facebook’s plans to make everything a social and sharable experience: listening to music, watching films, reading books and internet browsing.
But my reaction is that Morozov is forgetting something.
Flânerie isn’t at all impossible online and the flâneur was always an outsider – part of the (Internet’s) crowd but a detached by it. Not everyone was a flâneur, hence the concept of ‘The Crowd’.
He sauntered through arcades, which were built for shopping, yet he buys nothing, savouring the sensory experience of the arcade, defiantly strolling slowly to subvert industrialisation and capitalism’s fast pace. Even in his last days, he hung around bazaars but never bought anything from them.
If you buy that cyberflânerie is dead, then certainly cyberdérive is its sucessor. Dérive was all about reshaping the city to create a Situationist utopia, where play is central and seperate from capitalism, consumerism and work. Dériveurs must have an awareness of currents, fixed points and denials of entry to subvert them and to reshape the city.
In the context of the Facebook-dominated internet then, cyberdériveurs have awareness of Facebook’s dominance, of consumerist temptations, etc. and subvert them by going on their cyberdérives, restoring the playfulness and saunter that the cyberflâneur once enjoyed.
It may well be that my research was a form of cyberflânerie after all – just because most people don’t engage in cyberflânerie, it doesn’t make it impossible to do. I’m not on Facebook anyway, so am unaffected by this so-called dominance and generally static web experience., proving cyberflânerie’s existence. In addition, people do use other parts of the Internet. The amount of art students who do contextual research outside of Facebook is surely significant. This may be cyberflânerie, as you have to keep an open mind to find anything.Could my research even be a form of cyberdérive? Did I subvert the Facebook-dominated internet by going on my own journey? One thing that is problematic is that dérive is militant and revolutionary with idealism for the refashioning of the city. I’m not militant, I don’t see anything wrong with Facebook or its dominance, and I don’t aim to refashion the internet, free it of the shackles of Facebook to create a playful alternative, free of consumerism, etc.I conclude that cyberflânerie is not dead – not if you venture out from the comfort of Facebook, online shopping and Google Q&As.