People Are Not Landscape / by India Choquette

Now that I'm 7 years in New York City, I think I may have pinpointed the difference between country living and city living. Over a year ago, I went to visit my parents in Vermont, and I was in the grocery store, wandering around like always, when someone yelled my name. I looked up and there was Felicity, the French teacher I knew from Saturdays at the community center when I used to live here. "India," she said, "I've walked past you 6 times and I couldn't catch your eye." 

And that's how it is: I don't really see people anymore. That's the city living effect. Most of the time if you asked me who I sat next to on the subway that morning, I'd probably have nothing to say--not even a loose description. City dwellers don't see people because there are so many. And even though we encounter hundreds or more on a given day, we don't see them as individuals, we see them as landscape. Or possibly obstacles. We use dating apps to shop for people like they are shoes. People are infinite, and therefore disposable. We don't have to worry about any particular interaction because, if it is unpleasant, we can find someone else. People are invisible because there are so many, and people are objectified because they are replaceable. This glossing over of humanity is dangerous. If nothing else, it makes us shallow and rude. It opens us up to casual relationships. Being casual reduces humans to profile pictures and selfies that work as masks to hide our complexity. 

I miss the scarcity of humans from my childhood. If I fought with a friend, we would figure it out, take time, forgive each other because we didn't have the perception of a replacement friend around the corner. In Vermont, I allowed myself to be friendly with people who annoyed me. I couldn't expect everyone to be subservient to my template of a worthwhile relationship. I had to accept differences because otherwise, I would be alone.

The joy (and struggle) of life is bridging the chasms between ourselves and others. Even though vastly different, we search for little oceans of commonality that allow us to connect. That's some confusing imagery, and this piece is very much a rant, but I upset that I've stopped seeing people as equally complex. I don't want people to swipe by my face or blend me into the background. I don't want to lose my ability to see the humanity of others. In New York, sometimes people melt into the landscape, but we are all much more vast and dense than any skyscraper.