In my Modern Urban British Novel course with Professor Alderman, we read an article that has some interesting arguments about the way a city works and what it means for its inhabitants. At least one point in each of our classes, I feel like this idea being introduced to a series of shocks or traumas comes up and I wanted to give some of Simmel’s words on the topic and then explore two different aspects that Simmel’s writing points to for our purposes.
“Thus the metropolitan type of man–which, of course, exists in a thousand individual variants–develops an organ protecting him against the threatening currents and discrepancies of his external environment which would uproot him. He reacts with his head instead of his heart.”(Sec. 2)
“For the reciprocal reserve and indifference and the intellectual life conditions of large circles are never felt more strongly by the individual in their impact upon his independence than in the thickest crowd of the big city. This is because the bodily proximity and narrowness of space makes the mental distance only the more visible. It is obviously only the obverse of this freedom if, under certain circumstances, one nowhere feels as lonely and lost as in the metropolitan crowd. For here as elsewhere it is by no means necessary that the freedom of man be reflected in his emotional life as comfort.”(Sec. 9)
In class, we’ve discussed how Chaudry’s idea of the “numbing of the self” is very apparent in today’s media world. It is certainly interesting to think about how even if we live in rural areas(aka South Hadley), we are still surrounded by this frenzy of media. For those of us who are constantly on Facebook, Perez Hilton, NYTimes online, there is no escaping the realities(or unrealities for Perez Hilton) of the outside world. Therefore we might think of ourselves as existing in a city of media; our browser becoming a sort of sidewalk where interactions take place via images. I believe many of us certainly have developed the “organ” that Simmel points to, numbing ourselves and adjusting to this age of constant communication and linkage between screens.
I offered the second passage as a look at individuality and representation on sites such as Facebook. Simmel writes that “one nowhere feels as lonely and lost as in the metropolitan crowd.” With our idea of the internet as a city, we might think of the experimentation with self representation on facebook and how it differs from our “real selves”. Though there is space for education and work information, the bulk of someone’s representation on facebook exists in the pictures we post or are tagged of us. I will often go to someone’s page and deem it as “boring” because of their lack of pictures. We also take photos for the sole purpose of posting them on facebook. We “untag” pictures that aren’t cute and choose the cutest one to post as our profile picture. The amount of thought that goes into the regulation of images on facebook and in the general online community is extremely relevant to us in our discussion of visual culture. To see how far we’ve come: from the pre-cursor to the mugshot to only posting the pictures from Vegas night where we don’t have red solo cups in our hands…My, how photography and its purposes have changed!
You can read the full text of Georg Simmel’s article here: http://www.altruists.org/static/files/The%20Metropolis%20and%20Mental%20Life%20%28Georg%20Simmel%29.htm