Reading over the Manovich text this week, I was struck by how some of the technologies mentioned seemed a bit dated – the book was published in 2000, which seems at first glance like it was only a few years ago. Of course, the year 2000 is actually a decade behind us now, and it was interesting to read the article in light of the real technological advancements that have changed the very media Manovich seeks to explicate.
For example, I liked the dichotomy set up between the “flaneur” and the “explorer” – the flaneur being a social entity who prefers total immersion in a complex and dynamic social environment, and the explorer preferring simpler and more direct spatial narratives. At the time Manovich wrote this book, this dichotomy was an existing binary in the technology. Internet browsers, at the turn of the millennium, were more straightforward vessels for exploring pretty static web content. Webmail (without Gmail) was not completely mainstream at that point, and Manovich is correct in pointing out that live chat and newsgroups were mostly conducted in non-browser applications like IRC or email clients which were distinct from internet browsers. It made me wonder: how would Manovich respond to the modern internet browser, which handles all kinds of live chat and a so much of our email. What would Manovich make of Google Wave? Or, for that matter, of Facebook, which I conceive of as heaven for the flaneur. No longer is the internet browser limited to searching for static web pages and making the explorer’s preferred, spatially-defined progression through cyberspace.
With the collapse of that dichotomy, have the flaneur and the explorer learned to coexist within the same interface? I believe, and I think Manovich would agree, that the interface itself has very deeply influenced the way in which we explore the Internet. I’d argue that, with the invent of webmail and social media websites, which very few Internet users can avoid, we’re all flaneurs now.