How the iPhone Ruins Walking
My father-in-law used to like to come into the City to take pictures of people’s faces. He doesn’t come in much any more. Everyone is looking down at their phones.
This raises a critical point: the loss of random encounters that are the basis of being what the French call a flâneur. What is a flâneur and where did this kind of person come from? Simply put the flâneur is a wanderer. Human identity has always been intertwined with flâneurism. We were born wanderers. Our prehistorical ancestors covered dozens of miles a day, sometimes in search of game. Sometimes looking for a warm place to sleep. But sometimes just simply to move across territory and observe. To be in motion, head up, eyes and ears attuned to serendipity, was, and should be, our natural state of being.
To wander aimlessly, to stumble upon random encounters, to improvise upon those encounters is the real stuff of life; properly executed, a flâneur’s days should be lived as notes are played in a jazz ensemble.
Indeed, when the term flâneur was coined by Charles Baudelaire in the 19th century, it was done so in direct opposition to capitalism’s encroachment on humanity’s spare time and space. The English Inclosure Acts were perhaps the first blow in this regard. From the 1600s to the 1900s ever more rapacious landowners used their influence with Parliament to privatize 28,000 square kilometers of the country. At the same time as capitalism was seizing our space it began stealing our time. The rise of the factory pulled labor from more whimsical, artisan pursuits and institutionalized the working day.
Declaring oneself a flâneur was Baudelaire’s protest against the ever tightening noose around our freedom. To wander aimlessly, to stumble upon random encounters, to improvise upon those encounters is the real stuff of life; properly executed, a flâneur’s days should be lived as notes are played in a jazz ensemble.
But capitalism cannot tolerate “free” time and space. And, so, at last, we have the iPhone. A device that forces us to look down and ignore changes in light. We have the air pod, a blindfold…