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A Sandwich Board Man Seen From the Rear View Mirror, Waving
February 15, 2012 5:17 AM   Subscribe

The Death of the Cyberflâneur "While not deliberately concealing his identity, the flâneur preferred to stroll incognito. “The art that the flâneur masters is that of seeing without being caught looking,” the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman once remarked. The flâneur was not asocial — he needed the crowds to thrive — but he did not blend in, preferring to savor his solitude. And he had all the time in the world: there were reports of flâneurs taking turtles for a walk."

"As the popular technology blogger Robert Scoble explained in a recent post defending frictionless sharing, “The new world is you just open up Facebook and everything you care about will be streaming down the screen.”

This is the very stance that is killing cyberflânerie: the whole point of the flâneur’s wanderings is that he does not know what he cares about. As the German writer Franz Hessel, an occasional collaborator with Walter Benjamin, put it, “in order to engage in flânerie, one must not have anything too definite in mind.” Compared with Facebook’s highly deterministic universe, even Microsoft’s unimaginative slogan from the 1990s — “Where do you want to go today?” — sounds excitingly subversive. Who asks that silly question in the age of Facebook?"
posted by byanyothername (50 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
P.S. I know it brings up Facebook a lot, but I think that's mostly because Facebook is such a stark counter-vision (or, to my eyes, absence of vision) to what the article is calling "cyberflaneurery." Just as a weak attempt to keep the thread from derailing into too many Facebook comments, I think Freenet and 4chan are equally stark counter examples, as well. "Cyberflaneurity" seems more about a playfulness, fluidity, pseudononymous-ness and a drive to explore, create and witness beauty that once kind of defined the internet for a lot of people but now has retreated into relatively unseen corners. I'd look to proper (not Skinner box games) virtual worlds and the much more idiosyncratic approach to web design in the 90s/early 00s for examples of what "cyberflaneurism" really embodies.
posted by byanyothername at 5:27 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


tl;dr: lurk moar
posted by harperpitt at 5:33 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Seriously, though, I feel like the author misses the point of the internet. Who logs onto Facebook to "get things done"? Facebook is full of silent wandering, eavesdropping into other people's lives without leaving footprints of our own. It's a repository for people who touched our lives once, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, but have been gone ever since. Here's who I see when I log into Facebook:

- the complaints of a young divorced stoner
- a mourning mother whose young child died recently
- a mindblowingly naive overachiever with a startup and a semester in Paris
- the tea partier with a citizen journalist site
- the gay Episcopal minister with a HuffPo blog

And dozens, dozens more. Each one a tiny window on a life that's often different from our own. A thousand windows we can spy in without ever being caught looking.
posted by harperpitt at 5:46 AM on February 15, 2012 [18 favorites]


ntl;didr

Worth mentioning: it's by Evgeny Mozorov, author of The Net Delusion, which this might even inspire me to read at last.

So his model of cyberflânerie is old-skool blogging of the Robot Wisdom or LinkMachineGo kind?
posted by rory at 5:47 AM on February 15, 2012


Morozov, I mean.
posted by rory at 5:48 AM on February 15, 2012


It would seem that if the goal of the flâneur is to see without being seen, cyberflâneurs would be, by their very nature, off of the Facebook and onto things like web-fora, twitter, 4chan, etc, as byanyothername points out. It's not the primary way that the majority of the public interacts with the internet -- indeed, my mom loves Facebook, but (dear god I pray) has never been to 4chan. But I don't know that the proverbial "my mom" was ever a flâneur to begin with.

Previously: flânerie and the internet, on mefi

BONUS FACT: It's really fun to put that little circumflex over the a
posted by Greg Nog at 5:48 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Actually the heyday of the flâneur was 1991, when everyone was wearing flâneurel shirts and listening to "grunge". Then Kurt died, and we all took off our flâneurel shirts. But now the 90's revival has begun! If you're still "Alive", then it's time to take the ol' "Angry Chair" out of the "Heart Shaped Box" that you kept it in and have a good sit-down and be angry, "Jeremy". And you can do that while dressed in the warm flâneurel fabrics you loved so many years ago. Or, just "Come As You Are" - !
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:49 AM on February 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


quidnunc, I think this revival has proven that "You Know You're Right"
posted by Greg Nog at 5:51 AM on February 15, 2012


Wouldn't it be kinder to take a turtle for a swim?
posted by Mocata at 5:53 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Baudelaire wrote in one of his poems that a woman's eyes were 'brilliant as shop windows'.

I guess he had the flanuer in mind when he was writing that because he believed that the flaneur could know everything about those they watched by following them.

What's an interesting comparison is that Facebook and Linkedin are shop windows that we curate online for others to view. A really managed representation of how we want to be seen.
posted by notseamus at 5:55 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though, I feel like the author misses the point of the internet.....Here's who I see when I log into Facebook....A thousand windows we can spy in without ever being caught looking.

You are the one who seems to have missed the point of the internet, as well as Facebook. If you think nobody knows what you are looking at in Facebook, you are probably in for a rude surprise.
posted by DU at 6:00 AM on February 15, 2012


Facebook makes being a cyberflâneur so trivially easy that it's hardly any fun. Look through all the windows you like, there are millions of them.

If anything, what I miss most about the 90s internet is the era of human-curated links and for-the-hell-of-it personal web pages.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:04 AM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I dunno, it strikes me that Metafilter is a bit of a haven for the cyberflâneur -- I can stroll around the bluecade, look at the FPPs, stop for a chat, knowing that I am somewhat incognito, if not exactly unseen. Occasionally I get some polite applause for a bon mot or two. And, while I have not, myself, posted pictures of turtles, other mefites have....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:08 AM on February 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, pish. Those people who never venture outside Facebook, if there are any, weren't flaneurs to begin with, and they never will be. Leave the wearing of the sandwich boards to the professionals, please. :-)

That being said, I do fear that the day may come when I can't get to any content on the Web without some "papers, please" action from Facebook, Google+, or their ilk.

(Why can't I get the ASCII character for circumflex to work? I'm not on Facebook so I guess I'll have to find some other site, somewhere on the Internet, to help me.)
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:13 AM on February 15, 2012


I'll repeat a comment I made on some other thread:

If you're finding that the internet is limiting your serendipitous finding of new things to read and experience, you're doing it wrong.

Also: Morozov is a hack whose schtick is "everything you think you know about the internet is wrong"; he's a useful counter to the even-more-hackish cyberutopians like Clay Shirky, though.
posted by downing street memo at 6:21 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem with these sweeping articles about Internet culture is that all the author is describing is the tiny slice of Internet culture that they or their social circle personally interact with.

That said, it's true that my Internet browsing is increasingly passive these days. Instead of going out of my way to seek out interesting content, I rely more and more on FB/G+/MeFi etc., letting links found by other people parade in front of me. And of course, what this means is that most of the content I see is the same stuff cycling through all of my networks (I originally saw this article linked on my G+ stream last week).

So, to some extent I have to agree that my Internet activity these days doesn't resemble wandering/strolling so much as sitting in front of the TV, flipping through the same dozen channels.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 6:22 AM on February 15, 2012


When I hear 'flaneur' I think of those people who try desperately hard to ape Sebastian Horsley but can't afford the whores and absinthe. They usually work in marketing where their brown pin-stripe three-piece suit is at odds with the corporate grey around them.
posted by mippy at 6:25 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


downing street memo: I'll repeat a comment I made on some other thread: If you're finding that the internet is limiting your serendipitous finding of new things to read and experience, you're doing it wrong.

I see this point, but I think you need to qualify it by pointing out that it is incredibly easy to do it wrong, and that much of the way the web is structured encourages you to do it wrong. The web is the greatest serendipity-machine ever if you use it in the right way for that goal. But everything about how Twitter, Facebook and many other networks work is calculated to filter through to my attention those things that I'm already likely to like, via contacts whose tastes I'm likely to share. To use the web to encounter things truly serendipitously (as opposed to just finding new instances of the same stuff) you have to actively resist the logic of the advertising model on which it's based.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:29 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


> rely more and more on FB/G+/MeFi etc., letting links found by other people parade in front of me

The comparison of the metafilter front page to a facebook feed is very strange to me. I don't know what my facebook feed would look like if I had one, but I am virtually certain that the name of Sebastian Horsley, or Evgeny Morozov for that matter, would never be on it. Nearly all of the people I know in the real world are extremely dull in comparison to the people so many of you are pretending to be.
posted by bukvich at 6:46 AM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The people who don't use the web as a serendipity-machine now weren't using the web at all when the whole thing was a serendipity-machine.
posted by downing street memo at 6:47 AM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


fwiw: you cannot be a flaneur if you have to log into a site, even if it is with a pseudonym. so places like facebook rob you of the immediate, ephemeral and dare i say neophiliac experience of the flaneur by keeping databases of your every move not just within their domain but anywhere they can LSO your movement online.

baudelaire's whole point about the flaneur is that their inconspicuous movement along streets was a sort of moving-image production (as opposed to performance) that was produced, experienced and disposed of with every step. the flaneur's moving gaze was the closest thing to living art. each step and each gaze are supposed to become an aesthetic experience immediately passed, if not lost to remembrance if not oblivion, with the next step.

cookies, LSOs, trackers that can actually be crossed-reference with a profile in facebook or any other site rob you of the anonymity required for most online experiences these days to be truly a digital flaneur.
posted by liza at 7:13 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I hear 'flaneur' I think of those people who try desperately hard to ape Sebastian Horsley

When I hear flâneur, I imagine it has something to do with flan, which is often delicious. I do not like to think of flan in conjunction with Sebastian Horsley, apes, or (heaven forfend) Sebastian Horsley and apes. Do not taint my flan with such scenarios!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:14 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Flânnest: reading this article while watching Flânneury O'Connor in Melville's Bob Le Flaneur.
posted by zippy at 7:21 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the Amazon reviews on Benjamin's Arcades Project I found this nifty link to a Muschamp article in the New York Times. Nobody walking a leashed turtle in it though.

('The Flâneur', convolute 'M', p 416 of the book, is the first convolute mentioned in Muschamp's article by name.)
posted by bukvich at 7:21 AM on February 15, 2012


baudelaire's whole point about the flaneur is that their inconspicuous movement along streets was a sort of moving-image production (as opposed to performance) that was produced, experienced and disposed of with every step. the flaneur's moving gaze was the closest thing to living art. each step and each gaze are supposed to become an aesthetic experience immediately passed, if not lost to remembrance if not oblivion, with the next step.

This is beautifully put (and some of the most interesting early experiments in documentary film replicated this gaze, or attempted to-- see the "city symphony").

One thing that struck me most about the iPad is how passive it seems, based on how hard it is to type on the thing. Any piece of technology that reduces your interaction with it to pecking on its screen with two fingers makes you more a consumer, less a creator, imo.
posted by jokeefe at 7:21 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe Livejournal was a better example - I know it's a byword for teen drama in the US, but in the UK at least there was a big circle of bright, funny and honest people on there, professional folk in their early 20s and 30s pursuing careers or artistic endeavour or just a new persona, writing about their lives and the things they were passionate about. The friends-list format allowed me to eavesdrop on their lives even when I didn't feel like contributing. I don't feel the same thing exists in mainstream blogs as one has to make more of an effort (relatively speaking) to visit a blog. It's a shame, because now that community is fractured, and some no longer blog at all. And of course, half of it was probably never real, just like the persona the 'flaneur' adopts in their dilettante ways.
posted by mippy at 7:22 AM on February 15, 2012


I think he's talking about us.

Hi, Morozov! Come on over, why don't you take a seat, have some tea, and savor an interview or two at MetaFlâneur?
posted by LogicalDash at 7:26 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If anything, what I miss most about the 90s internet is the era of human-curated links and for-the-hell-of-it personal web pages.

Oh man, yeah. I miss the things that would be called blogs now except that the word hadn't been invented yet and there were no real rules or conventions or expectations for what you should put on a personal page. Like this place, which was like... a collection of links about female metalsmiths, plus bizarre personal experiments like eating only carrots for a month, plus a forum for no reason at all? I loved shit like that.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:26 AM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Facebook makes being a cyberflâneur so trivially easy that it's hardly any fun. Look through all the windows you like, there are millions of them.

No, there's really just the one.
posted by Mike Smith at 7:33 AM on February 15, 2012


everything is fine for fine people
everything is always getting better

sup doc pangloss
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:00 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The flaneur, the sandwichman and the whore article in PDF, no paywall.
posted by elpapacito at 8:10 AM on February 15, 2012


All he's done is noticed that, now that it's gotten so much easier to get on the Information Superhighway (yes, I went retro), more and more people are coming into downtown Cyberdelphia. The cybercrowd has gotten much bigger, so there are proportionally fewer cyberflâneurs.

Even back then the flâneur was separate from the crowd, and greatly outnumbered by the crowd.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:12 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter is where I flâne.
posted by dywypi at 8:14 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


r/all/new
posted by codswallop at 8:36 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


there were reports of fl�neurs taking turtles for a walk

Supposedly, Baudelaire walked a purple lobster through the Latin Quarter back in the old days.
posted by Rash at 8:46 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wasn't that Gerard de Nerval?
posted by Mocata at 9:04 AM on February 15, 2012


I spend 7.5 hours/day cyberfl�neuring.

Hardly anyone "surfs" the Web anymore.

... he said ironically.

or what harperpitt said (and codswallop (and others) condensed well). I think it's ALL some people do. (particularly us)

(Also, why on earth do you do you need to leash a turtle? Are you really worried it's going to run away?!)
posted by mrgrimm at 9:13 AM on February 15, 2012


cyberfl�neuring circumflex fail.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:14 AM on February 15, 2012


I don't think anonymity and invisibility are all that important to someone who takes their pet turtle out for a walk.
posted by yoink at 9:33 AM on February 15, 2012


Wasn't that Gerard de Nerval?

I stand corrected.
posted by Rash at 9:36 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a real-life and cyberspace flaneur of many decades' standing, I can report that the place to do it online is Google Streetview.

Whatever the dead poets say, you don't see very far into the private lives of people by passing them on the street, then or now. A half hour on Facebook (which is besides a terrible example) shows you more about what people are thinking than a lifetime of lobster-walking in Paris; what you see when you are flaneuring is the public expression of people's lives, not the private. Mostly buildings, that is. Most of the rest is pretense.

I've used Google Streetview to explore vast stretches of places I have never visited, like the "bad parts" of Mexico City, Pittsburgh, Staten Island, Barrow-in-Furness, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Alice Springs, Cape Town, Sao Paolo, and on and on.
posted by Fnarf at 11:16 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fnarf you could start a street corner drug deal filter where people post google streetviews from the sketchiest corners in their city. When I lived in New Orleans that was the intersection of Pine and Olive. For some odd reason (the contract driver knew better? the contract driver freaked the fuck out?) You can only get within a block of the intersection in streetview today.
posted by bukvich at 11:26 AM on February 15, 2012


There is a great view at Ursuline and North Johnson of the church park where they do voodoo shit (the real, not the tourist crap) however.
posted by bukvich at 11:40 AM on February 15, 2012


So is this like channel surfing versus watching a specific show/channel at a specific time?

The fact is, people like content given to them (by friends or other trusted sources or recommenders) because it allows them to be a little lazy and still enjoy content.

In our experiences, it is rare to stumble upon something good. For every 'HouseHunters International' you land upon, there are hundreds of pieces of crap.

Same with the web. When was the last time you stumbled upon something amazing that wasn't shared to you by someone/thing else?
posted by k8t at 11:45 AM on February 15, 2012


Same with the web. When was the last time you stumbled upon something amazing that wasn't shared to you by someone/thing else?

I figured that happened every day for most of us, but then pretty much everything online is by definition "shared by someone else," no?

Honestly, I find great stuff by myself all the time. But my "great" barrier is pretty low.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:01 PM on February 15, 2012


When was the last time you stumbled upon something amazing that wasn't shared to you by someone/thing else?

How do you think I found Metafilter? Random google + link surfing.
posted by Fnarf at 12:52 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]




Morozev from a year ago in the NYTimes op-ed section giving Cisco and Google and Andrew Sullivan and Hillary Clinton the business. Seems like he might be a young Zizek who doesn't pick his nose on camera.
posted by bukvich at 2:53 PM on February 15, 2012




The Internet is not just the Web. In the beginning was ASCII.

I was one of the 'luddites' who hated the Web in the beginning. The Web represented commerce and AOLies. Before that text land was a vast frontier. The early internet was for creating a life (or many) online, for fantasy and intimacy, for adventure and even danger. In text we could fly through crazy-ass worlds without being seen; on the Web we can only walk on the paths paved by corporations, and every page has a security cam.
posted by Surfurrus at 4:46 PM on February 15, 2012


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