Culture

Great Minds Think Alike: Making the morning commute more humane

A friend recently told me this story: The first time he took his daughter, age 4, on the New York City subway at 9 o’clock in the morning, she anxiously tugged on his sleeve and motioned for him to bend down.

She whispered: “Are these people all mad at each other?”

New York strap-hangers know the scene well — a subway car full of people, all tired and straight-lipped, looking past each other without interacting in the slightest. They clutch at books, mash thumbs at smartphones and disappear into their music — actively ignoring the others around them.  The scene is repeated on trains in major cities all around the world, as people file into work day after day.

But two recent TED speakers — one in London and one in New York. — are hoping to change this. Both gave talks, just weeks apart, about creative ways to encourage interaction on the subway. And thus, we are sharing their thoughtful talks below as a kind of e-introduction.

BBC producer Emily Kasriel gave the talk above, “A manifesto for a meaningful commute,” at TEDxHousesofParliament on June 22. Emily worries that by cocooning ourselves in individual bubbles during what should be a shared experience, we are damaging our psyches and wasting large tracts of time. In the talk, she proposes six actions to take toward a better commute — including, gasp, starting conversations with strangers.

Meanwhile, improv enthusiast Kristin Pedimonti gave this talk, “Bringing joy to everyday moments,” at TED@NewYork, part of the 2013 Talent Search, on June 7. Kristin also finds herself disturbed by the lack of interaction on the subway. In this talk, she talks about how she blows bubbles on rush-hour trains, even giving out bottles of bubble soap to others, to bring out people’s playful sides. How can you recognize her on the MTA? She’ll be the one carrying the sign that reads: “free hugs.”