New York diary


I do not know what it is like to live there, but as a visitor, no matter how many times I’ve been to the city before, New York does not fail to impress. Like Venice, Paris, or Mumbai, its character assails you the moment you step into the city. Arriving by train into the New York Penn station, the same passengers who were relaxed and laid back when they boarded the train in the suburbs spring into motion, like toys with wound up keys, and march with an infectious purpose through the station into the maze-like streets of Manhattan. The press of humanity that begins here continues unabated, in the subway, the cafes, the museums, and you always know you are in New York because its signature, the dense racial mix, is hard to miss. Mexicans, Indians, Chinese, Africans, Europeans, Americans: all in one subway car, like a grand social experiment designed to observe inter-racial behaviour in a confined setting. The experiment is not a success: nothing much happens, each individual is self-absorbed: immersed in a book, listening to music, or simply lost in thought; communication, when it occurs, is not between members in the car but with someone far away, reached through a mobile phone.

The mobile devices I spotted on the subway were all iPhones. A young woman stood beside me checking her iCalender, switching between a few dates; 14th: Finish Chapter 9, Long NC; 15th: Take your pills!; 18th: Dinner with Mq & Tj. Later, in a cafe, the dozen or so tables were occupied by men and women peering into a screen in front; all those laptops bore the Apple logo, and a bluish tinge in the eyes of many suggested a Facebook page. A master-slave relationship was evident; humans seemed to have surrendered, unconsciously, to machines.

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8 thoughts on “New York diary

  1. I think that in a busy, dynamic place like New York sometimes “the surrender to machines” represents an opportunity for escapism – I know that is part of the reason why my Kindle is always with me on public transport!

  2. “It was obscene. The world has too many books, too many published writers. We should stop publishing books for five years. Give the readers some time to catch up!”

    This is EXACTLY how I feel! I have roughly 100 unread books at home and I’ve just ordered 11 more and there are six others I want and I just feel breathless and STRESSED.

  3. This is so true. Writers, editors, publishers – all trying to sell sell sell! The best of books are lost in the midst of hundreds of average skill. One has to sift through heaps to find quality and all this arbit junk is just putting the overall intelligence of humankind down.

  4. You probably can’t know what a pleasure it is to look at this (to me most) extraordinary city through your eyes and head, especially since I know you’ve done the same through mine. It is overwhelming, sometimes, and frightening in its excess and instances of human isolation, self-imposed and not. I’m especially struck by your observations about Apple and the masters and slaves; by the photograph of the homeless man in that particular subway; by the $4.95 price of looking smart in the subway, reading Eliot: this week’s special, no doubt. And by the quiet I felt when you were in the museum, in contrast to the rest of this fine essay.

    In Montreal we too have our underground city – we even call it that – our “twin” to the city above, but it’s filled with shops and restaurants and brightly lit: just another mall that gives onto the clean, bright subway and its singing trains on rubber wheels. When I’m in New York I always think that subway is somehow more honest, as a dark reflection of the wealth and glitter above.

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