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The Cyberflanêur: Dead or Just Marginalized?

In her keynote address at the opening night of the 2012 CHAT Festival ( Laurie Patton, the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Duke, mentioned a New York Times article entitled “The Death of the Cyberflâneur” by Evgeny Morozov. I thought this was a very apt reference to make at a conference that was devoted to the very “playfulness, intrigue, and serendipity” in the digital world that the article argues has been lost.  I like, Laurie Patton, am not sure that the cyberflâneur is entirely defunct, but the mere existence of this article points to a change in the way that the online community uses the internet and virtual worlds. Morozov states that the internet is a place to get things done, not a place to explore. This is true, but also a gross exaggeration. From what I heard at the CHAT Festival, there are a great many projects being developed that seek to encourage the very kind of flanêurship that the great practitioners, such as Baudelaire and Benjamin, would have admired (even if they could never have conceived of such a use of this word). There are plenty of opportunities to ‘play’ on the internet – but increasingly it seems that it takes work, or at least specialized knowledge, to know where to look. A major theme of the conference was how to make these programs more accessible to the general public and this is a question that has not, and maybe will never be, adequately answered. There will always be a divide between those who go to the internet to ‘get things done’ and those who go to explore. But isn’t this exactly the same sort of divide that existed in the times of Baudelaire and Benjamin? Despite our contemporary romantic notions of the arcades of Paris or the early department store, when they first came into existence there were very few members of the public that saw them as anything but functional modern developments.  


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