The ordinary practitioners of the city live “down below,” below the thresholds at which visibility begins… These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other’s arms. The paths that correspond to this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices of organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness.
Walking in the City – Michel De Certeau
As I move around cyberspace I am reminded of this quote from De Certeau derived from his essay Walking in the City, which itself is from a larger work called The Practices of Everyday Life. First published in 1984, it sets out to interrogate the validity of the ‘increasingly sociological and anthropological perspective of inquiry [that] privileges the anonymous and the everyday in which zoom lenses cut out metonymic details – parts taken for the whole’. It is at turns a philosophical, sociological and anthropological narrative that stalks the ordinary individual as they move through space, time, society and culture.
As I embody this figure, strolling around social media, inscribing my mark on digital palimpsests, generating paths and route maps through previously uncharted cyberspace, I inhabit the role of the digital flaneuse: a woman wandering. Elusive, and yet traceable by my movements online, I evade apprehension by those who attempt to control through panopticism. I operate at a level ‘below the thresholds at which visibility begins’.
And yet, as De Certeau qualifies, ‘it is as though the practices of organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness’. As I engage in these practices, I am graced with a privileged viewpoint – a subjective understanding of the ways in which this space functions. I, in collaboration with all other practitioners, organise this space. We manage this amorphous city of bytes and ether, unhindered by those who would seek to control our movements.
We are the ordinary practitioners – ‘the murmuring voice of societies’ – ‘a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one’. It’s our connections to each other, those bonds between one individual to another, that defines cyberspace in the 21st century.
As one of those individuals, I connect, I create, I communicate. I am a digital flaneuse: at once a part of the crowd and apart from the crowd. An individual unto myself and a member of the masses.