Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Talking to Strangers

Oh I can't control myself
Oh I can't control myself
Oh I can't control myself
Don't leave me hanging on the telephone - Blondie, "Hanging on the Telephone"

Cool Girl with Umbrella, New York 1996
A hundred years ago when I first came to live in New York it was a very quiet place. You could walk down almost any street and the only sounds of people talking were made by tourists or lunatics, in most cases by the latter.

You could go for a stroll and actually be annoyed by the rumblings of delivery vans, the sirens from ambulances, police cars, fire engines, the New York car horns and the sound of air conditioners emitting whatever air conditioners emit.

Those days have long gone. New York noise has doubled in intensity. Now New Yorkers have had the finial inhibition lifted. They can talk anytime, anywhere, without being hampered by a need for the physical presence of another human.

The cell phone has brought equality to the streets of New York. You can no longer tell the loonies from the so-called normal New Yorkers.

I hadn't thought too much about the increase in New York noise. In fact I hadn't thought about it at all, until the other day when I was walking in Manhattan with one of my noisier New York friends - yes New Yorkers actually do differ in the noise level they emit - when she yelled, "Jesus! New York is so f-cking noisy nowadays!"

To be fair, she HAD to yell or I wouldn't have heard her. "It think it's the cell phones," I replied, but of course she didn't hear me. New Yorkers only listen to themselves.

Some New Yorkers still don't have cell phones, and are forced to talk to whoever is close by. Click on the play button below and you'll hear a typical New York conversation between two complete strangers.

Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough off the mark and missed recording the first bit. The woman, who is doing most of the talking had been sitting in, well overflowing really, her wheelchair, berating everyone who walked by for being New Yorkers and not talking to her. It's a short clip, and well worth the click!

Larry David Talks on Pretend Cell Phone
People talking on cell phones somehow block out all other sounds and enter a bubble of their own making. They'll talk about the most intimate things regardless of who might be listening.

I used to think they were just pretending to call and my reason for thinking that there was no one on the other end of the line was that people on cell phones in New York never pause. It's one non-stop stream of audible consciousness.

If I was pretending I'd have enough sense to pause now and then and "answer with an "Oh really" or two. Of course I was quite wrong in my reasoning. New Yorkers are talkers and not listeners. The cell phone is perfect for them. There are no talker-listener pairs. Just two talkers. And hence the huge increase in noise level.

For every New Yorker on a cell phone there are two simultaneous conversations. I've never been much good at maths but something tells me that this is - to use a favorite word of modern Americans - HUGE! And thinking of "HUGE" it occurs to me that the new use of this word makes maths irrelevant. Numbers are either huge or not huge. I think I'm on to something huge here.

But that's another story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My cell she never ever rings.
So in the street I hums or sings
I talk to strangers
If I think,
What I say to them
Is apt or funny,
If we're in sync,
It costs no money.
Once in a while
I get some grumps,
Who cares?
Some folks down in the dumps.

Post a Comment