A couple of quotes I've had stored away for ages:
“For Londoners, London is obscured. Too thinly spread, too private for anyone to know. Its social life invisible, its government abolished, its institutions at the discretion of either monarchy or state or the City, where at the historic centre there nothing but a civic void, which fills and empties daily with armies of clerks and dealers, mostly citizens of other towns. The true identity of London is in its absence. As a city it no longer exists. In this alone it is truly modern. London was the first metropolis to disappear."
— Patrick Keiller, from his film London
“Serendipitous encounters between people who know each other well, sort of well, and not at all. People of every type, and with every type of agenda, trying to meet up with others who share that same agenda. An environment that’s alive at all hours, populated by all types, and is, most of the time, pretty safe … New York had become the Web. Or perhaps more, even: that New York was the Web before the Web was the Web, characterized by the same free-flowing interaction, 24/7 rhythms, subgroups, and demimondes.”
— How NYC is like the Internet, Jennifer Senior, New York Magazine
The overlap between city and Internet fascinates me. I've never considered these two quotes side-by-side before, but I think they say a lot about how our view of the world has changed over the last twenty years. Keiller's quote, from 1994, predates the web as we know it today, and yet perfectly captures the essence of the void that it was to fill, a vacuum devoid of social glue.
I was raised on Richard Scarry's Cities Are Really Quite Busy And Full Of Pigmen books, perfect representations of the twentieth century ideal of a model society. Half the activities depicted (playing, shopping, socialising, laughing at cats in lederhosen) now take place in the online arena. What Scarry and Keiller could never have predicted was that the city hasn't disappeared at all – it's just that we now carry it around in our pockets.