Cyborg Subway

1st Sept 2010

There’s a sense of psychic armouring on the subway. Some people wear big, reflecting, non-introspective mirror shades from CHiPS underground: the touch of mercury in the glasses emphasises their cheekbones, and turns them into beautiful, cruel cyborgs. Certainly, they’re over-equipped with technology: always ear phones, sometimes huge stereophonic devices that would be better suited to Navajo code breakers in WWII than civilian life. They cast their eyes down to check their smart phones and, often, it’s the all-in combo. Totally integrated technology. Full. Metal. Jacket. Locked and loaded. All that is lacking is a jack to mainline into the arm (which tangentially reminds me of the snowboarding coat my friend John Loco wore during a San Anton Austrian ski / party season which had Ipod plug in, and a control panel on the arm: perfect for when the posse went off piste en masse, weaving through the fir trees on full moon nights after a party at the summit).

People have their books, of course; but to the non-cyborg eye, the armour a book provides, its distraction from others’ eyes seems valid, edifying, educational; so, as a non NYC veteran, I almost do not notice how many people are reading. I might well notice, for example, that the Asian woman near me – Japanese-Chinese: a beguiling blend – is reading, but that’s only because she’s doing it while standing up, rag-dolling in perfect sync to the carriage’s lurches. Otherwise, the readers’ armouring is, in Dungeons and Dragons parlance, more leather armour, to the titanium plate mail that morphs around the people with white earphones, some of whom are singing along to their music.

Which brings us to the confluence of two streams: the first is the aggressive, “don’t look at me (invade my bubble)”; the other, just as active, is “do look at me as I sing along to my multi-media device, I need you to witness me, provide me with psychic energy, to help me to surf to the crest of this moment’s sea of other people rather than drown in it.” If not mad, they seem clinically neurotic: a sane reaction to an insane environment. It’s a war for recognition, and a sinking into anonymity; hour by hour, minute by minute, the city is a stressor, a relief. Whatever it is, the city will amplify it, every element, every viral strain of personality, like a stack of speakers pimped and tweaked to an excessive output. It batters you until you realise you’re being digested. I’ve been here a week. I think I need to be sedated.