Weingarten: Look up from the phone and appreciate the city
If you use your morning commute to catch up on your beauty sleep, you're almost out of luck. Recent reports indicate that Wi-Fi and cellphone reception on moving trains aren't a matter of if, but when.
While they've been available in dozens of subway stations for a year or so, the push for on-train service is fueled in part by younger riders. As MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast was quoted as saying in The New York Times, "It is one of the features that the Xers and the Yers and the millennials consider an expectation . . . not a luxury."
In an informal poll of friends, most praised the move as a good idea -- provided that riders limit in-car use to silent pursuits such as texting or surfing the Web. Others mentioned relief, knowing that in case of an emergency they wouldn't be isolated underground.
I'm torn. I've found that resisting the urge to stare at your screen and instead paying attention to the here and now frequently yields unexpected opportunities -- like the subway bonding rituals among total strangers when faced with dueling Mariachi bands.
A few weeks back during a hot weekend, two little girls in my neighborhood set up a table in their driveway. Their parents beamed approvingly as the adorable tykes offered free bottles of ice-cold water to passersby. The parents told me that the only people who missed this opportunity to connect with neighbors were those so engrossed in their phones that they were oblivious to one of those really great and all-too-rare NYC moments.
I also worry that the move will result in more skirmishes as people who've never learned to use indoor voices talk way too loud, listen to music or play noisy games and are then angrily shushed by others.
When I led tech-etiquette workshops for Fortune 100 corporations, I found that employees feuded most often about the perceived rudeness of texting or conducting cellphone conversations at inappropriate times. Manners might be considered old-fashioned, but courtesy is always in style. Hang up the phone when you're paying for something. Don't ignore the person in front of you to gossip with the person on the phone.
Though silent subway cars could help, I long for screen-free ones. But I'm afraid that train has left the station.
Rachel Weingarten is author of the forthcoming "Ancient Prayer: Channeling Your Faith 365 Days of the Year."