When I was in New York last year, I came away thinking it would be a good place to work in the future. I’m currently on my way back from New York after another week there, and I fly back with a different feeling. My over-riding sense is that New York isn’t a city that corresponds closely with my values. Perhaps three things can be taken as examples to illustrate (which are far from unique to New York):
- In Freetown, people like looking at their phones, but you certainly don’t see the constant fixation with being online, the walking the street looking down into a phone not ahead. Perhaps influenced by my recent reading of Cal Newport’s ‘Deep work’, I’ve become much more negative about smartphones and social media. I really believe time spent on social media gives very little of value, so to see a society obsessed with this is worrying.
- Yesterday, I had a day free, so bought a few high quality magazines and newspapers and spent several pleasant hours in Central Park. Living outside the West, and then returning to it like this, draws into sharper contrast the consumerist messaging of ‘products you need to be happy’. I felt this last month, having my young daughter suddenly exposed to all the clever marketing of attractive things for infants in the French supermarkets. She was suddenly wide-eyed with all the wonderful things on offer, and begging her parents. In the magazines and newspapers, the message is that you need an expensive over-sized watch or a luxury car to really achieve success or be a true adventurer/hero. I can just about ignore the adverts, but it permeated the writing as well. For instance, a magazine about being in nature and exploring the great outdoors, was heavily focused on ‘amazing gear you need to buy’.
- Style is much more polarised in New York. You get a large segment that is super stylish, tanned, extremely well dressed, and clearly gym regulars. Then you get another segment that is obscenely overweight and carelessly dressed. It’s very different from France, where a pot belly or a large bicep are both much rarer.
So, I like my New York trips, and perhaps later in life I can find a three month contract in the city to really explore with my wife. But it’s not the place to be long-term I feel.