• Patrick McAndrew

The Unplugged Perception

As a newbie to the New York City area, I always find the subway fascinating. Talk about an efficient mode of transportation. One train is going that way while two others are going the other way. The subway roars into the station and, if you are with someone else, you have to shout at them even if they are right next to you in order to be heard. Masses upon masses of people leap onto the subway, especially at rush hour, and there are those lucky few who earn a coveted seat.

Then the bing-bing happens: “Stand clear of the closing doors, please!” One last person victoriously makes it into the subway as the doors close behind them (I always want to pat those people on the back, and I feel especially cool when that person is me). Doors close and then: silence. Or, that is often the case so long as there are no flipping, pole-grabbing, fist-bumping dancers around.

This is incredible! There are so many people and the whole subway falls silent. People retreat to their inner minds despite being crowded with people. As I sit on the subway, I look around and see 90% of the peoples’ faces in their phones; in their own worlds.

Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. I know, especially in the morning, I’d rather be left to my own devices (ahh…see what I did there?). But it’s interesting to note how much of a cultural norm this has become. People have told me that they feel lonely in New York City and it’s amazing that one could feel so lonely in a city with so many people. But that’s the way it is.

Sherry Turkle, a professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, wrote an incredible book called Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. In it, she discusses how we must reclaim conversation by creating “sacred spaces” that are tech-free. She states, “We say we turn to our phones when we’re ‘bored.’ And we often find ourselves bored because we have become accustomed to a constant feed of connection, information, and entertainment. We are forever elsewhere.”

New York City has so many great things to offer. And the people I have met so far are nothing short of amazing. But I do wonder about all those passersby who I sit next to for 20-30 minutes on the subway, until we both go our separate ways, “forever elsewhere.” Perhaps I need to take some initiative and just say hello!

But really, who does that in the city that never sleeps?

What are your thoughts? Is it worth striking up a conversation on the subway? Comment below!

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