The night before I flew to New York City on a business trip last week, I went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday at a new, upscale restaurant with communal dining tables. When the couple seated next to me left, they were replaced by a small group. Nearest me sat a young woman who put not one… not two… but three cell phones on the table. I detected some foreign language going on, inferring that she had a domestic phone for her travels, a work phone, and a personal phone. She didn’t diddle with them and she had a purse, so it wasn’t clear why she piled them on our table, but it turns out it was foreshadowing of the days ahead.
A few things had changed since my previous trip to New York, but one that I noticed immediately was the omnipresence of smartphones and tablets on the subway. If memory serves, I had just been given my first iPhone before my last trip there and I distinctly remembering feeling self conscious about pulling it out for fear it would be nabbed. I am fairly certain that few other New Yorkers were gazing into gadgets either. Cut to 2013. Whoa boy.
Even through is was no signal in the subway tunnels, that didn’t stop people from using their smartphones like crazy. It’s not that I fault them—I mean, what else are you going to do on a long commute. It’s not as though you want to start a friendship on the subway. I just noticed the marked difference 6-7 years had made in that regard.
Not surprisingly, smartphones figures pretty prominently into other street scenes. I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprising (and it wasn’t). For a city crammed with overworked, underpaid, over important people served by really overworked, underpaid, actually important people being constantly bothered by tourists… it should be no surprise that the isolated masses want a little escape.
In a lot of ways, I admire New York folks. Generally they dress better, seem to value culture, have an appreciation for tradition, and are driven—if primarily because they have to be in order to survive. But in a big, gritty, cement and steel place like Manhattan, it was even more apparent that people disappear into their gadgets when they are working so hard to live in a city they are missing almost entirely.
For my part, I saw the sights, smelled the smells, and ate a lot of bagels.