keywords: flâneur, psychogeography, Paris, ituationist, locative media
Everyone loves the flâneur, Baudelaire’s symbol of modernity, the anonymous man on the streets of nineteen century Paris – drifting through the urban crowd, strolling through the arcades as a detached observer, part of the crowd but also aloof from it.
The flâneur has also found his way into the digital world from the nostalgic notion of the cyberflâneur surfing the (Geocities) arcades of the world wide web with no particular place to go. A recent op-ed in the New York Times even blamed Baron Haussmann in the guise of Facebook for destroying these cyber-arcades, and along with them the cyberflâneur.
Discussions of the intersection of digital media and physical space, from early Locative Media practitioners on, also invoke the notion of the flâneur in his new incarnation as the digital flâneur, traversing the streets equipped with location aware devices observing and studying the augmented hybrid spaces of the city “existing in a haze of code”. Certainly location-aware mobile devices lend themselves to these analogies, it’s an easy connection to make, but is it the correct one?
This paper argues that it is time to forget the flâneur; this nineteenth century model of male privilege is no longer fit for the purpose. As Benjamin notes, the flâneur arose from a change in architecture in Paris, and it was the subsequent Haussmannisation that were to prove his undoing. Whatever the merits of the connection between the cyberflaneur and the WWW, the architecture has changed and a new model is needed to consider the peripatetic nature of location aware networked devices in the digitally augmented city. The detached passivity of the flâneur needs to be replaced with an alternative model that is of necessity engaged, a disruptive activist who does not merely observe but actively seeks to create alternative narratives and shape outcomes.
- Conor McGarrigle, Emergent Digital Practices, University of Denver, US
Full text (PDF) p. 424-427