Monday, 6 February 2012

Cyberflanage, Or the Delights and Dangers of Lateral Thinking

The New York Times had an interesting article yesterday by Evgeny Morozov about what he thinks is a missed opportunity in the Internet Age: the way it allowed us to poke around, looking for gems of ideas or perceptions. He compares it to the very Parisian idea of flanage, which sometimes is translated as loitering. But it's something far more interesting: strolling and looking, a habit that was lauded by Walter Benjamin and others as a delightful and instructive way to pass time.

Unfortunately, says Morozov, the way Google and Facebook have begun to order what they think we want to know, given our past searches, the lovely serendipity of stumbling across new information, new images, new ideas is much less frequent.

I'm not sure it's all that bad, but I do know that if I have the time I still can spend hours following the leads presented by suggestions on the various web sites I come across. Start, for example, with Gustave Caillebotte, whose painting of floor scrapers we saw in the Musée d'Orsay a few years ago. Lee was delighted to see it because it depicts ordinary folk working, something not that common in the 19th century. He bought a print, only to discover to his amusement that the wine bottle is cropped out of the picture. Now, that observation can lead to seaches about the temperance movement in France, through Zola and his great series of novels in which drunkeness is a terrible curse (See L'Assommoir, for example) to reflections on the Mediterranean diet and the role of red wine in cardiac health.

The problem, I think, is that there just isn't enough time to follow up these fascinating lines of research. If you are a lateral thinker, the Web is full of riches. The trick is to learn how to follow your own tastes--and not to become drunk on all the information out there.

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