In today’s New York Times, Evgeny Morozov laments the “cyberflâneur” in today’s Facebook world. The term–which I’d never heard before in cyber or non-cyber form–comes from Charles Baudelaire’s ideal of the flâneur, the urban nomad who explores the city as an observer, who takes in the city without necessarily participating or influencing. The cyberflâneur, then, is one who explores the eclectic offerings online, whose tastes are wide-ranging and who is willing to explore the unfamiliar.
Morozov quotes an interview with Mark Zuckerberg that, to him, represents the antithesis of the cyberflâneur. Zuckerberg asked a rhetorical question and did not hesitate to answer. “Do you want to go to a movie by yourself, or do you want to go with friends? You want to go with your friends.”
I’ve realized for a long time that my response to this is atypical. Usually, with friends is more fun, sure. But sometimes it’s not about fun, and, as Morozov points out, usually we compromise as to what movie we’ll see so that groups of friends will agree.
When I was in college, I’d read some of the plays of John Guare and was excited that they were making Six Degrees of Separation into a movie. When it was released, I went by myself. When I told one of my friends that I had gone alone, she said, “I would have gone with you! You should have called me.” I told her that I had considered it, but then thought if I invited her, she’d suggest that we bring along a few other friends, then they’d invite other friends, then they’d ask if we could do a later showing, then one of the other friends would suggest that maybe we should see Wayne’s World instead. She agreed that it’s likely. We’d get caught up in negotiating.
And I know negotiating is important, and we have to compromise to get along with other people. But for the social flâneur, it’s more important to accept this wandering. Here is where I am wandering, I say. If you can keep up with me you’re welcome to walk alongside, but if everybody else wants a different path, I generally just let them go.
The trick for me as a cyberflâneur, though, is that I like being social and I’m sometimes very aware when it’s missing. I’ve used Netflix to explore a lot of obscure movies, and I appreciate the ability to choose something without asking whether anyone else would like it. And yet a few weeks ago I saw Incendies, and I’ve been dying to discuss it with someone. I haven’t found anyone else in my circles who’s even seen it–and discussing it out loud is tricky because my pronunciation of the French title tends to get indistinct. So I appreciate the social web, and that my wandering then can become social–that I’ve heard an interesting song, tried an interesting recipe, read an interesting article, and I think you might like it too.
Morozov’s critique of “seamless sharing” is, perhaps, the most thought-provoking part of the essay. My life takes me to interesting places, and I generally like to share, but the seamless sharing often has implications. To those who know me socially, what I share might define me as a person, or it might be taken as a recommendation. The seamless share fills my profile and attempts to influence others. And that takes away from the wandering spirit of the flâneur. I might, because I’m curious, want to listen to a Nicki Minaj song or read a Stieg Larsson novel, but I’m not certain I want my friends to see me as the type of person who does these things. I might be curious to try a Yemeni restaurant or a new SyFy TV series, but I wouldn’t tell my friends that they should do the same–the seamless sharing puts it out as a recommendation before I’ve had the chance to decide whether or not I recommend it.
So there’s another reason this is on my mind, but that’s another post for another day. For now, here’s a picture of an arcade on a mall. Of sorts.