One of the first things I noticed when I moved to New York City twenty years ago was how quickly everyone here moved, how rapidly they walked and how terribly urgent everything seemed to be to them. I’d moved from Los Angeles, which is the nation’s second largest city and seems to many people just as hurried and harried, but there is something unique about the frantic quality of Manhattan life, something telling.
Manhattan (for it seems to dissipate once you leave the island) is a perfect example of modern society’s need to believe it must get somewhere it is not this very instant. People do not so much walk the streets of this city as maneuver, stepping quickly around one another. Many times I have been brushed by someone hurrying ahead of me, only to arrive at the same door or building a few seconds before me. We enter the elevator together, and they immediately pull out their BlackBerrys or their iPhones and start click-clacking away with their thumbs, unable to ride a few floors in the presence of another person without drawing a digital curtain around themselves.
I’ve puzzled all these years on why they need to do that. What impulse propels them? And how does our culture, our media, and our voracious consumerism feed that need to be where we are not, disguised as the illusion of significance? I must get to my office quickly. I must respond to emails instantly. I must see who has sent me a text message or called or Tweeted or updated their Facebook status right this moment, or I will fall behind. I will miss something. I will rip the veil off this illusion and reveal myself to be no more significant than the woman I just nearly knocked over on my way here.
There is nowhere I need to be but where I am. There is nothing I need to do but what I am doing. I am not that important. My worth is not determined by how quickly I respond to an email or how often I remind the people in my life what I’m thinking. I will not disappear if I stop. Just stop.