Have you ever noticed that most people in public places tend to ignore each other?
I know I certainly do.
I avoid eye contact. I don’t sit on the same bench as anyone else. I pretend I’m the only person on a subway car. I try to disengage if someone does talk to me.
But all the literature I’ve ever read talks about how public space is the key to building community. How is that possible if nobody acknowledges anybody else’s existence?
I wrote an entire 115 000 word book about how communal spaces in the Neolithic would have fostered integration and cohesion within a community, entirely ignoring my own experiences in public space. I hardly ever talk, interact, or even acknowledge people I meet in public space, but can espouse for hours about how similar spaces in the Neolithic would have been used for intense interaction.
What is the difference? Why are modern experiences of public spaces so isolating? Maybe it’s me? Am I anti-social?
I wonder whether this has more to do with the removal of ritual from most people’s lives in modern urban cities. We no longer have the structure provided by formalized experiences to guide our interactions and we fall back on pretending people aren’t there. Alternatively, it might simply be the scale of modern cities. Public spaces are no longer there to allow people to develop relationships, but instead are there to let people blow off steam.
What do you think?