I encourage you all to read Evegny Morozov’s brilliant article in the New York Times Sunday Review. In it, he laments the loss of the cyberflaneur, a brilliant term for one who “strolls” through cyberspace the way a 19th century flaneur would:
leisurely stroll through its (Paris’) streets and especially its arcades — those stylish, lively and bustling rows of shops covered by glass roofs — to cultivate what Honoré de Balzac called “the gastronomy of the eye.”
The changes to the Web in the last decade have made “strolling” obsolete. To put it in more Weberian terms, the Web has been rationalized. Here’s is a particularly thoughtful passage:
Transcending its original playful identity, it’s no longer a place for strolling — it’s a place for getting things done. Hardly anyone “surfs” the Web anymore. The popularity of the “app paradigm,” whereby dedicated mobile and tablet applications help us accomplish what we want without ever opening the browser or visiting the rest of the Internet, has made cyberflânerie less likely.
He saves most of his scorn for Facebook.
Everything that makes cyberflânerie possible — solitude and individuality, anonymity and opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking — is under assault by that company. And it’s not just any company: with 845 million active users worldwide, where Facebook goes, arguably, so goes the Internet.
A critique I build on in my upcoming book, Facebook Democracy. In it, I explore the importance of mystery and detachment from the self to democratic civic life. I’m particularly struck by this passage in Morozov’s essay:
“The art that the flâneur masters is that of seeing without being caught looking,”
Applied to politics, this translates to a citizen that observes, listens and reads the cacophony of political voices before they jump in. But Facebook culture, I think, makes that role more difficult to put into practice. The result is either complete detachment from politics, or a political certainty that equates to having a Jim Rome style “take” of political events. Neither seems like a good model for democratic citizenship.