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.