Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
While Listening To Kraftwerk
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2009 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
The votes all request the New York As Religion hypothesis. So here goes some analogizing. Actual ethnographers, please correct the hell out of me.
The phenomena I wish to explain:
What are the two things that specifically and disproportionately make New Yorkers angry?
New York is a city you can trust, the way you can trust certain rock-solid pieces of software. Millions of people have been using it to its limits every day; anything you want to do, someone else has tried. There is a blazed trail, a user interface, a well-known list of features and longstanding bugs and workarounds. Via intelligent design (grid of streets, subway system) and evolution (ruthless market forces for 400 years), this city creates an expectation in its users that things will make sense.
And New Yorkers grow to believe that systems should make sense, big systems like the subway and smaller systems like theatres or meetups or gardens. They live in a city where there is usually a reason why you are being inconvenienced, or why that restaurant has the following it does, or why that bit of infrastructure works the way it does. The explanation might refer to history, or to an arbitrage opportunity, or to the peculiar and customary crystallizations of our struggles with entropy. But, once you're thinking on the macro scale, things tend to make sense. It's unlikely we're on the efficient frontier, but we feel close to it.
Instead of feeling as though we're going it alone, in individual cars with routes we choose (ignoring the massive social structures embedded in car-based transit), we use openly social constructions. We depend on the subway and the line at the bodega. We do a hundred trust falls every day, delivering ourselves unto each other. No one New Yorker earned this trust, but we all gain from it. We have the smugness that comes with believing: the world makes sense and has a place for me.
So when someone or some organization does something that does not make sense, it's not just inconvenient, it's heresy. Inefficiencies go against the natural order of the world. It breaks the trust.
Visiting other cities, more "laid-back" places where people and organizations tolerate more inefficiency, we either pity the poor dears or get irritable and bewildered. We get angry, or we laugh, or we try to convert others, or we must consciously adapt to a new lifestyle. There is something in our preferences that we privilege above mere tendency, that ties into values and identity.
When others come to us, when tourists stand still on Manhattan street corners with maps, some pity the heathens, and some grumble that they're blocking the sidewalk. But some of us give directions. We get to show off our knowlege of the beautiful, elegant cosmos. We hope to convey the splendor of the grid, and its hospitality -- there is a path already laid out for you, and we made it for you before you ever thought to come here at all. We Witness.
02 Jul 2009, 15:50 p.m.
02 Jul 2009, 18:54 p.m.
03 Jul 2009, 15:58 p.m.
04 Jul 2009, 13:47 p.m.
07 Jul 2009, 16:31 p.m.