For all of New York's low and high points in the Quality of Life category, the subway is one of the most critical. It's the people's transportation, the great class equalizer. It shows us what people are wearing, what people are reading (somewhat), what people are talking about. It's the constant, omnipresent embodiment of what it means to live as a New Yorker.
Transferring to the uptown 1 at 14th street is a part of my daily commute to 29th Street, but I may take another route, now that the 14th Street Station has wireless sponsored by Google. The sponsorship by Google itself will likely be the subject of many blog posts. Why Google? How does the city feel about this? How is the wifi in public parks working out for New York? When (if ever) will it work between stations? Now, I am surely a person of the internet, and I wholeheartedly support it and its possibilities. But not on the New York City Subway platforms or between stations. Here are my reasons.
New Yorkers are readers, planners, and masters of the art of focus. The subway commute is one that forces us to entertain ourselves, which is an extremely rare forced opportunity to focus on one thing and nothing else. When I went to San Francisco a few weeks ago and whipped out a paperback on the Bart train, people were surprised that I was doing so. The days afterward, I observed very, very little reading on the MUNI -- either in part that the commute is supposed to be very short, or that they're connected to the internet for most of the time. On the effort of planning, the skill of preparedness is one that city-dwellers must conquer -- not in case of emergency, but just In Case of anything. Bringing a snack, bringing something to read, bringing an extra hairtye. You aren't going back home until you're so exhausted you can't stand anymore, so be prepared for anything.
New Yorkers are talkers. Add wireless internet to the commute, and take away the couples who would ordinarily talk about their day, or coworkers talking through the meeting they're about to have. Replace them with each person checking their phone for news, email, whatever. I know this will happen because as soon as people exit the subway station above ground, they immediately have a phone in their hand and slow their pace.
What about everybody else? What's the ride like for those without a smartphone or tablet? Wifi provides literally no benefit to them, and they are a majority stakeholder in train ridership. We should give them a break and let them ride in peace without our beeping, blinking apparats as another limb.
Great innovation is born out of constraint. Time-shifted anything. Instapaper and its recent implementation of geofencing. Apps that queue up your offline behavior and send it when reconnected online. These features are going to save our asses if we ever have a mass outage. How frustrating is it that iMessages or texts on your phone don't automatically retry when they fail to send? You practically have to babysit them to make sure they're sent. Our relationship with these mobile technologies is that it should do what we intended when it's possible -- that means completing an action later and maybe send an email or alert letting me know that it's finished.
New Yorkers are workaholics. More connectivity means another 1-2 hours of work and emailing every day. I would never opt in for that. My sanity is maintained when I segment my personal habits and recognize when to work and when to relax. My commute is the time I try torelax, the time to think about what my day will be like or to shift gears and think about the things I need to do in my homelife. It's a solid metaphor for the divider that is the start of your day and the end of your day.
A Note on Subway Etiquette
If you don't live in the city, and this term sounds prudish, pretend like you commute with a carpool of strangers every single day. These strangers aren't from your neighborhood, they don't work in the same industry as you do, and they don't have the same socioeconomic status as you. On any scale that you can draw, they're strangers. It's a completely mixed bag. Following a code of etiquette is critical to feeling safe and comfortable among strangers. We don't like the rules the FFA enforces, but a lot of it is needed to keep order and safety attainable for all.
Subway Etiquette Violation #1: Be Quiet. Now, I know what you're thinking: how is wireless not quiet? Loud tapping on Blackberries in close quarters is rude. Watching any videos without headphones would be intrusive. I could imagine a scenario where Facetime or Skype could cause an argument. Cell phone service does not and should not exist in the subway for the same reasons -- would you want a stranger in your carpool yakking your ear off on a phonecall on your commute? No, nobody would.
Subway Etiquette Violation #2: Move Quickly. We all know the posture and dragged-feet when someone is using their phone, and, I admit, that even I am guilty of it from time to time. When talking through the issue with David, he asked "How long until someone holds open a door while an email downloads?", to which I say "Over my dead body!". If somebody ever makes me miss a train because they couldn't move their ass getting on or off the train or up the stairs to leave the station, I will be that New Yorker shouting at you to watch where you're going. And I am one of the nicer ones!
Our subway stations need better basic facilities, not better treatment for smartphone owners. They need functional elevators, more trashcans, cleaner spaces, better air-quality in the warm months, safety precautions during off-hours, and the budget to keep more staff. Who do we call when the wireless service goes out? Would you like to guess how many shits the MTA workers will give when out-of-towners ask them if they can reset the wireless router? Don't even get me started on the budgetary challenges the MTA faces over the trains and tracks alone -- they're very far from healthy.
by Jen Chung on Instagram 
Wireless internet in the subway takes away the human aspect of our commutes and turns it into every other big space, filled with humans with their heads down. And to this I say to Google and Boingo and everyone else who thought this was a good idea: You need to master your art of focus.