The Way We Understand Cities

“The Walkman changed the way we understand cities,” wrote William Gibson in 1989. “I first heard Joy Division on a Walkman, and I remain unable to separate the experience of the music’s bleak majesty from the first heady discovery of the pleasures of musically encapsulated fast-forward urban motion.”

Today we move through our cities with cameras, music, maps, and local news on our telephones. We share snapshots with the world. We are globally positioned. We check-in to restaurants and weather events, we tag each other on the weekends. I wonder if our handheld devices allow us to understand and document the city in an exciting new way, or if they insulate us from its details, muffling the background chatter of our private thoughts during the idle moments spent standing at a crosswalk or waiting for a friend who’s running late, those moments when the stoops and fire escapes and strange alleys and gothic archways begin to make themselves visible to us.

4 thoughts on “The Way We Understand Cities”

  1. Michelle says:

    I had a student back in Memphis, and he was a very different fella. Schizophrenia was his sidekick…

    He commented on electronics, and it really moved me.

    “People be lookin’ down at all their phones and games. When I love around, I like to know where I’m goin’. And I always like to look up… Don’t know why…”

    I think he was onto something.

  2. Michelle says:

    Note: I have typed and retyped “move,” not “love.”

    I guess that would change the context of the whole comment…

  3. Wow! Such a nice story, thanks for sharing it!

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