Great Minds Think Alike: Making the morning commute more humane

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

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.”

Comments (7)

  • Mayme Trumble commented on Nov 20 2012

    A must for Ted Talks!

  • Sam Levey commented on Aug 22 2012

    Reblogged this on RealThinkingBlog and commented:
    This is one of the most inspiring talks I’ve heard

  • Katrina Christopoulos commented on Aug 21 2012

    I commute each day an hour each way and I really enjoy the peacefulness of my train ride. It’s actually my ‘me’ time where I can daydream, read a book, or surf the net and research things. It actually irritates me when people decide to have a conversation on a quiet commuter train, but I do understand that is a bit unreasonable of me so will put music in my ear if they go on. Blowing bubbles on a train is just mad! Our communication networks are growing bigger and bigger, I have very real and deep connections with many people in my life, and make new friends all the time. If I was to talk to people on the train everyday too I just think it would be overload….you can’t know everyone.

  • Sébastien Paris commented on Aug 14 2012

    I have to agree with you MaryEllen. Since the TEDx (independently organized events) we see more and more lectures given by common people with ordinary ideas. We love those too, but they have plenty of platforms to be public. TED audience should be respected in the sense that if they take the time to listen to a talk, it has to be worthed. Otherwise we gonna loose its sense of community.
    TED should take back control over the content of the TEDx events, no matter who organizes it, to make sure it is at least inspiring or informative. TED shouldn’t be deluded into another broadcasting and branding platform, too many of those already, and should keep a certain level of their true nature. It is a too important community to just loose it for a few private producer in quest of fame and curriculum…

  • Pingback: How to Make the Subway More Meaningful | New York Writes Itself

  • John Sinclair commented on Aug 13 2012

    Emily got on TED probably through a recommendation or by plain volunteering for it.

    You seem pretty knowledgeable on the matter, I hope to see you on one of the TED talks someday.

  • MaryEllen O'Brien commented on Aug 13 2012

    Wow, I was bored out of my mind 2:00 minutes into Emily’s incredibly lackluster, schoolmarmish talk. This is precisely why commuters try to keep their own space in the crowd. So as to avoid being held hostage by a total bore. You know, I actually do, quite often, start up conversations with strangers on the subway or bus or trains. I’ve even made a couple of good friends that way. But it cannot be forced by a schoolmarm scolding and trying to coerce it.

    I usually find TED talks very stimulating. How did Emily get on TED?