The Media Gesture Of Data Dandyism

It is common knowledge that the city as a walled polis or society has disintegrated and only comes to us as a touristic facade. Architecture theorist Paul Virilio has described this development sufficiently. The 'mechanics' of the city should be more than a description of infrastructures, more than cybernetics. The metropolis is more than a unfolded map of points and lines. The historic places with their local significance, intersected by circular traffic systems, have no meaning to us anymore. The city has become our second skin. Alienation is a self-evident condition humaine, without nostalgia for the stone age or fascination for digitalism. Also, the metropolis is more than the supply of subcultural hobby identities. Of course, the specular city can be consumed and everything can assume characteristics of goods. We can surrender ourselves to the fashion and hype, and draw the city as a trajectory of discotheques and concert halls, squatted houses, book stores, graffiti, boutiques and record shops, galleries, hashish coffee shops, festivals and street music. But to what extent is 'consumerism' a sign of a subjectivity that no longer exists? Users are no longer subjects (subjected to the plan), but rather projects, moving around the data universe in a Brownian way. The 'mental nomadism' of Deleuze & Guattari can also be understood (and criticized) in a consumptive way.

Cruising and shopping are no longer distinguishable. Even the 'Temporary Autonomous Zones' (TAZ) of Hakim Bey can both be constructed in an active sense, and be consumed free of any obligation.

When the city can no longer be conceived materially or systematically, but can be seen as a mental space, the question is: By whom and how will sensory experiences be shaped? How will the shapeless, the immaterial be shaped? It no longer matters that we move permanently, until the 'furious standstill' (Virilio). From now on, it is important how we move, how we inform ourselves, whom we pass ourselves off as, which gesture (Flusser) we propagate and which shape (Junger) we take. The parallel world of cyberspace will take on a liquid architecture (Michael Benedikt). But the inhabitants will be as liquid as their environment. They will therefore be occupied with both the design of shape and surroundings.

One of the potential shapes is the digidandy. He matters because predecessor from the 19th century had a special bond to the city, the masses and street life. In this period of large scale conformism it is not done out of a longing for the return of the (virtual) rebel or revolutionary, but in order to examine how the system can be weakened and disrupted.

The digidandy only collects information to flaunt it, not to transfer it. He is informed all too well, even excessively so. Specific questions prompt undesired answers. The phenotype of the digidandy is confronted with the same fear as his historic predecessor, whose stages were the street and the salon. The elegant extravagance with which the most detailed information is displayed, shocks the efficient media user. He mocks measured consumption and intake of current news and amusement in dosages and doesn't worry about excess or overload of specialistic knowledge. His carefully composed information portfolio shows no constructive motivation. His zapping is not prompted by boredom, but by a superior unwillingness to stay in touch with current events and the latest trivia.

The screen is the mirror in front of which he does his toilet. The button/unbutton of the textile dandyism has found its successor in the channel surfing of the on/off decadentia. He spends the majority of his computer time on the dashing structure of his hard disk and the creation of refined connections between thousands of heterogeneous software bibelots. The powerbook as an ornament is the pride of many a salon digitalist. He jeers at actuality, hype and fashion: for a moment, an I emerges, which is his own anchorman.

In the era of multi-media mass information there is no discernible difference between uniformity and multiformity. Neither a grand overview nor the explanatory detail can control the confusion of mind. In that light, the digidandy proves what everybody already knows: that information is omnipresent, but not freely available. Certain facts are very decorative and you have to develop a good nose for that. In contrast to the data collector, the ditto dandy is not concerned with the obsession of the complete file, but the accumulation of as many immaterial ornaments as possible. While the otaku is an introvert and never crosses the boundaries of his lone cultivations (Grassmuck), the digidandy searches out the most extroverted news groups in order to launch his unproductive contributions. Whatever the digidandy snatches to present elsewhere would be latently of interest, if it were not that his presentation were so indiscreet. His whimsical wit distracts from everyday items. The genius of his bon mots lasts 30 seconds, after which they disappear from the screen . Our dandy is a broker in gigo-ware. Your garbage is his make-up and his substance your fluidum.

What the street used to be to historical dandies like Brummell, Baudelaire and Wilde, the Net is to the electronical one. Cruising along the data boulevards cannot be prohibited and clogs the entire bandwidth in the end. The all too civilised conversation during the rendezvous stirs up some misplaced and inconvenient information, but never leads to dissidence. Willfully wrong navigation and elegant joy riding in somebody else's electro-environment is targeted to trigger admiration, jealousy and confusion, and self-assuredly heads toward a stylized incomprehension. One fathoms the beauty of one's virtual appearance; to the moral indignation and the amusement of the plugged-in civilians. It is a natural quality of the carpet-knight to enjoy the shock of the artificial. That is why he feels so much at home in cyberspace and with all its attributes. Only, the scented water and the red stockings have been replaced with the prestigious 'Intel', delicate datagloves, and butterfly goggles laid in with rubies, and there are sensors in his eyebrows and nostrils.

Down with the boorish NASA aesthetics of the cybernauts! We have long since passed the stage of pioneering. What matters now is the grace of the media gesture.

Geert Lovink is a writer and journalist living and working in Amsterdam. He is a member of the editorial board of CTHEORY, and has written extensively on nomadism and digital culture.


Agentur Bilwet, Medien-Archiv, Bensheim 1993.

Adilkno, Cracking the Movement, Squatting beyond the Media, New York 1993.

Adilkno, The Longest Bridge, a touristic essay, Sonsbeek 93, Arnhem 1993.

Hakim Bey, TAZ, New York 1993.

Volker Grassmuck, Otaku, Mediamatic 5#4.

Geert Lovink, Hoer zu oder Stirb, Berlin 1992.

(The above is an excerpt from a larger work entitled The Art of Being Informed, and is also part of Dictionary of Art & Technology, published by the InterCommunication Center (ICC) in Tokyo. This dictionary will also be a database, called ICC Matrix.)