Street scene, Mexico CityRobot Flâneur strolls the streets of Mexico CityPhoto: Google Street View via Robot Flâneur

I went to Johannesburg this morning and walked around a bit. Just taking in the sights.

Then I spent a little time in Mexico City.

No, of course, I didn’t do these things. I was at my desk like a good worker bee (sigh).

But thanks to a very cool new site called Robot Flâneur, designed by a fellow in London named James Bridle, I was able to get a glimpse of the street life in these and six other cities, including Tokyo and Berlin.

A flâneur, in case you’re not familiar with the term, is a person who strolls the streets of a city at a leisurely pace, observing the city’s unfolding scenes with a detached yet discerning eye. Poet Charles Baudelaire developed the concept. Critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin put a 20th-century spin on it, writing:

The street becomes a dwelling for the flâneur; he is as much at home among the facades of houses as a citizen is in his four walls. To him the shiny, enameled signs of businesses are at least as good a wall ornament as an oil painting is to the bourgeois in his salon. The walls are the desk against which he presses his notebooks; news-stands are his libraries and the terraces of cafés are the balconies from which he looks down on his household after his work is done.

Now Bridle has taken the simple and quite elegant step into virtual flâneurism by using images from Google Street View. You can set Robot Flâneur as your desktop screensaver; the pictures will change every 30 seconds, forming a shifting backdrop for your workday. Or you can keyboard your way through the streets at a quicker clip, if you’re less patient. Next stop for me? São Paolo.

(h/t The Pop-Up City.)