Why don’t we go out unless we need to? In the New York Times op-ed, “The Death of the Cyberflâneur,” Evgeny Morozov laments the disappearance of the “cyberflâneur,” and analyzes the reasons behind it.
The cyberflâneur is the digital equivalent of the flâneur, a concept deeply tied to 19th century Paris. Edmund White describes a flâneur as “the aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination, and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps.”
Flâneurs, are by definition, endowed with enormous leisure. They’re said to have so much time on their hands that they could take turtles for a walk. They wandered in shops, but did not “give in to the temptations of consumerism, their goal being to bathe in the crowd, taking in its noises, its chaos, its heterogeneity, its cosmopolitanism.”
Flânerie, as an activity, slowly faded away, in a large part, in the second half of the 19th century, due to the widespread urban planning reforms undertaken by Baron Haussmann during the rule of Napoleon III. Narrow medieval streets were demolished and wide-open boulevards were constructed. Buildings were numbered for administrative purposes. Gas street lighting appeared.
Today’s Internet is undergoing similar changes. It’s antithetical to the very spirit of cyberflânerie.
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.
Dedicated mobile and tablet apps help us accomplish what we want, without ever opening the browser or visiting the rest of the Internet. The tempo of Web 2.0 is different as well. It’s inimical to relaxed browsing.
Facebook is also to blame squarely. By making every every leisure activity, social—reading, listening to music, watching a movie—it bolsters the notion that the individual experience is somehow inferior to the collective one.
Everything that makes cyberflânerie possible—solitude and individuality, anonymity and opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking—is under assault by that company.