Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
In this thesis, the work of Walter Benjamin is examined for relationships to developments in internet culture and societies. Beginning with Benjamin's use of allegories in illuminating the growth of bourgeois culture in 19th century Paris, particularly the flaneur, the feuilletonist, and the sandwichboardman, this thesis then moves to discuss the relationship between Benjamin's method and how they can show structures in the formation and attraction of social aggregator websites (also known as social bookmarking) and social networking. The first part of the thesis discusses social aggregators, in particular the websites reddit, Digg, and MetaFilter. This section examines the history and development of these sites, how they work, and what the community response to them has so far been, before moving into a discussion of how these structures affect the individual user. The individual user on these sites is seen as analogous to the flaneur, who in strolling through the crowds served an economic purpose of making their consumption public. In this manner, the user turns "slack" (as the site reddit puts it) into economic work. The transformation of this slack into economic benefit is seen as belonging to an economic cycle first developed by Benjamin to explain the work of the feuilletonist and the decline of the visual aspect of this cycle from the extravagant flaneur to the destitute sandwichboardman. The second part of the thesis explores the history and technology of social networking, in particular the websites LiveJournal, MySpace, and Facebook. Here the sites are discussed in light of Benjamin's elucidation of the development of the bourgeois individual, particularly in the aspects of the bourgeois collector and the evolution of the private interior. In particular, the arcades of 19th century Paris are seen as being instructional as to how to be a modern, urban individual; the social networking site is seen as serving an analogous purpose for training individuals how to be modern, digital citizens. Finally, Benjamin's technique of the allegory, while useful in highlighing certain trends in social networking is seen as being pushed to its limits in addressing the rhetoric of a dominant ideology in digital life, that of technolibertarianism/transhumanism.
Shagam, Matthew, "The Internet Arcade: Walter Benjamin and the Social Internet" (2008). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 214.