Why I Am an Information Flaneur

Kent Bottles

First published 6/13/11 on Kent Bottles Private Views

While reading the New York Times Sunday Book Review (in a hard copy format that got my fingers dirty with ink) I came across this quotation in a Evgeny Morozov book review of The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser:

[Citizens] should not be content as mere passive recipients of tweets, pokes and bytes; they should aspire to become what some Internet scholars call “information flâneurs,” treading the unbeaten paths in cyberspace and defying the narrow categories stealthily assigned to them by Web services.

Here is a video of Eli Pariser discussing the filter bubble.

I had never heard of a flâneur before and quickly went to Wikipedia where I learned that Charles Baudelaire expanded the definition of this word, which means stroller to define “a person who walks the city in order to experience it.” Now I admit that Baudelaire is one of those French authors I realize I am supposed to know, but I don’t remember ever reading. The concept of a flâneur has influenced social science theory of urban life, architecture, and photography. The Wikipedia article also mentioned that Nassim Nicholas Taleb endorses the concept in his essay on why he walks in The Black Swan, a book I have read twice. When I finally found my copy of The Black Swan, I discovered that I had indeed underlined the passage about walking and flâneurs. My memory is not what it used to be; it is increasingly harder and harder to remember what I read and where I left that book I remember as being important.

Later the same day I noticed a tweet about Ethan Zuckerman writing about serendipity. I had never heard of him, but his lengthy blog version of a keynote speech was all about cities and mentioned the flâneur concept. Talk about serendipity.

I was even more surprised when I read the first comment on his blog from Marian Dork who gave a link to his article The Information Flaneur: A Fresh Look at Information Seeking. This article has validated my approach to information gathering of wandering around and finding things I did not know I was looking for. This approach to Internet behavior came about because I am always looking for a specific book in my house that is hard or impossible to find. However, even when I fail to locate the original book I am looking for, I often find another more pertinent book I did not realize I owned.

I have now changed my twitter profile to proclaim that I am an Information Flâneur.Here are some things I have learned in the past few weeks by poking around twitter and the World Wide Web. With the lens of hindsight, I now realize I have been concerned with how disruptive technologies will affect the future of health care.

Here is my blog on a recent New York City session on living with man-made machines (I was excited that the WSJ.com picked up my post):

And here is an thought provoking video with a view of the future of medicine by Daniel Kraft of Stanford University:

And here is a blogger who is thinking about the relationship between playing video games and becoming a surgeon:

A physician at PartnersHealth in Boston thinks we need to move from being couch potatoes to being advocates of the quantified self-movement:

And last but not least, a medical student at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York predicts what medicine will look like in 20 years when he will still be practicing and I will be 79 if I am so lucky:

I will continue wandering around the information in my world, and I will continue to try to make meaning of my place in the world by writing blogs. Dork writes, “The flâneur is an urban wanderer, who leisurely walks through streets and squares interpreting and re-imagining the city. Following the flâneur’s attitude toward the city, the information flâneur sees beauty and meaning in growing information spaces. By envisioning the information flâneur as a curious, creative, and critical persona, we promote a shift from negative concepts such as needs and problems towards positive information experiences.”

I just thought I was trying to figure what is going to happen in healthcare in these confusing times.

Kent Bottles MD writes at Kent Bottles’ Private Views.

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