Spent the day in Midtown, Central Park, and the Met. “Gaze data everywhere.
Some New Yorkers wear their emotions not on their sleeves but on their brows. They may be surrounded by hundreds of people, some in very close proximity, but they do not veil the gaze.
If you are, as I am, involuntarily empathic, you get split-second moments of access. The emotion in them becomes the emotion in you. This is streaming data, a succession of emotional lives: a women who is puzzling with a cryptic feature on her cell phone, a girl in front of a store window wondering what to get her girl friend, a man who is deciding that it is time to demand that senior partnership, damn it! These New Yorkers let you see right in.
This is weird. The English and the Japanese react to the close quarters of a small island by withholding emotional data. But then both England and Japan are hierarchical societies that give status to those who exercise emotional control. Candor costs them. Americans (especially New Yorkers?) see no status penalty to revealing their emotions and some of them come from cultures that actually penalize those who withhold them. Anyone from a Latin culture expects emotions to be front and center, and they are inclined to doubt the motives of those who wear dark glasses (thank you, Virginia) truly or metaphorically. On this small island, revelation is ok (when it is not obligatory).
I guess they cant be New Yorkers unless they are well armored. Otherwise, this island, with its crowding, noise, and commotion, would eat them up and spit them out. This means that they do not have to worry about someone taking their candor as an invitation to approach. Approach a New Yorker at your peril. Canadians are declawed at birth. In New York, the nails grow long and are never clipped. Or to shift the metaphor, every New Yorker comes with a SWAT team built in. They can mobilize instantaneously to rebuff the intruder. With great internal defenses, they do not need external ones.
This is more “gaze as window than “gaze as economy. But there was plenty of the latter. People survey one another with open interest. Theres that raking glance that takes in what we are wearing top to bottom. I was walking with Pamela, and I saw women noticing her with intent. Intent to what, I wasnt sure. Intent to evaluate, to judge, and sometimes to criticize, apparently. She was, I thought, wonderfully dressed but some observers were posting grudging scores (“7.7, 8.5, 8.3). There were approving glances (“9.3, 8.8, 9.5). And there were even a couple of looks that suggested intimidation, as if to say, “I could never in my life have taste and money enough to manage that. (I guess this is a “10.)
The nice thing about the city is that it is, still, a pretty diverse place, with lots of cultures and subcultures. So we might get an approving or neutral gaze from someone “like us, but chances are that bike courier (all dread locks and attitude) didnt think particularly well of my J.Crew not-a-clue outfit. In fact, he did not see me at all. (“4.4?)
No New Yorker wins every contest. In fact, every New Yorker is going to see someone in the next 15 minutes who will bring them down a notch. This gaze economy has so many scales of value that no one gets to triumph. Indeed, the higher we score on one scale, the lower we score on another. Interestingly, there is no exit scenario. Unless we spend all our time at home and the club, we must expose ourselves to diminishment. Or to put this in the form of a trade off, we cannot present ourselves for approval, without exposing ourselves to the reminder that we are, in someones world, a dolt.
And this may be one of the secrets to Manhattans diversity. If New Yorkers cannot win the extensive game, they might as well play the intensive one. The rule of thumb: play where you can win. If they cant wow everyone, they might as well narrow the audience, and compete more locally, with people like themselves.
A new market in the making: competition becomes more intense, distinctions finer, players more ferocious, stakes higher. If the bike courier is presenting himself to the entire city, even modest dread locks and attitude will get the job done. But once he competes in a smaller market, he ends up wondering whether he shouldnt “go big or stay home. And now the gaze economy begins to drive the real economy, as the market responds to each intensifying culture with more and finer choices.
This is weird, too. In a sense, the city grows more parochial and more cosmopolitan at the same time. Actually, it grows more parochial and cosmopolitan from the same motive. The economy of the gaze encourages everyone to be more “like they are and in the process the city becomes less like it is. Plenitude begins with a gaze. We start “just looking around,” and it’s not long before someone is wearing really long dreadlocks.