Walking the web

Can searching the internet be transposed to walking in a city? And vice versa; in what way do subtle navigational choices we make while strawling through a city influence our perception of walking the internet? Automated indexation raises the question if carrying out a walk by yourself is actually worth the trouble.

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Speaking for myself as an artist who likes to walk to collect material, to witness recurring urban phenomana and to get my thoughts organised, the physical act of walking is important, because it delivers a cognitive understanding of an environment which cannot be obtained by any other means. Sometimes I try riding a bicyle, or driving a car, but these are means of transportations that employ the body in a process of functional navigation which forces you to focus primarily on the infrastructural system itself and does not allow attention to wander of in any other direction.

Reading a citymap gives a functional overview and comprehension of the streets and structure of a city, but maps also “embody a particular way of understanding the world that privileges certain things above others (…). They presume that to know where we are is more important than how or why we are. They also bear a particular relation to our ideal of knowledge: its object must be considered at a precise distance. We choose our map to give us a specific, sublime over-view: too far out and we lose clarity; too close and the world appears too complex to comprehend with one glance.(1) Spidering a city’s structure reveals a truth of the ordinary which is not visible from a birds perspective.

How to walk the internet in a straight line?
The Generative Psychogeographical projects developed by Social Fiction.org(2) claim that “technology will find uses for the streets on it’s own”. The ongoing experiments of the .walk “walkware” ask participants to carry out a script by walking the streets of a city, which then works as a switchboard. The instrumental walkers base their directions on an algorithmic formula which is decided upon before starting the walk, and as a team they become a system of computing, reworking the situationist concept of the Dérive into something which can be fun and functional at the same time.
On the city’s harddrive there are many simultanous programmes at work, all following an algorithm of some sort. Labour, transport, tourism, commuting and shopping set traffic in motion each following their own logic and each executing a specific task. The metropolitan hardware provides high speed corporate processing, human brainpower supplies and multi linguistic compatibility to enable simultanous cross town traffic computing.

Walking a city in a straight line is a challenge because it is virtually impossible, but not entirely unthinkable. Seeing obstacles dooming up in front of you and considering the nature of the impossibilities you are facing triggers an imagination of how to overcome (or go around) these barriers.
The Grabber; “a bot without a purpose”(3), is a primitive webbot that reads the web in a lineair way. It reads the file at a URL which is provided by a user, it follows an external link if it finds one, and so on. If there’s no link, the grabber stops running. I have tried to apply the same principle by hand, just search for the first external link on a webpage, click and move to the next site to repeat the same and I can tell you it is a deadly boring action, and I am glad somebody built a bot to do this dirty job for us. The Grabber surfs untill it drops, which is usually very quick: Most websites want to keep their visitors in as long as possible, which means an external link will usually not appear on the first page. Where walking a city is all about remaining out in the open, walking the web seems to be about stepping from one virtual building into another.

1 Simon Pope in conversation with Kris Cohen and Sarah Cook

2 .walk software by socialfiction.org

3 the grabber by Actions Réseaux Numériques