Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This week's question comes from a subway rider who feels conflicted about freeloading off of someone else's book.
Dear Native New Yorker,
What's the etiquette for reading over someone's shoulder on the subway? I usually try to be sneaky about it and pretend I'm not doing it at all. But sometimes I see people doing it very blatantly. Do I need to hide the fact that I'm reading my fellow passenger's book?
A native New Yorker responds:
I've got good news and bad news! The good news is that your eyesight is great, unlike that of most people who've developed myopia from staring at screens all day. The bad news is that you are a creepy fuck who enjoys invading the privacy of strangers! This is a bad habit, which you must attempt to end.
Sure, riding the subway can be a little boring, and who among us, in an attempt to relieve the metaphysical discomfort, hasn't glanced over at the cover of a book or magazine a fellow commuter was reading? But there's a big difference between a glance and a prolonged and invasive stare. The former is harmless curiosity, the latter is invasive voyeurism.
How close is too close? This is a complex field of research, and personal space varies between cultures and countries. Americans purportedly feel uncomfortable when people stand closer than four feet away from us when engaged in conversation, but a New Yorker isn't likely to find four square feet of space on a rush hour train. So here's a rule of thumb: if you're close enough to read the actual text of a person's book, you are WAY TOO CLOSE.
Now, strictly speaking, your victim has no right to privacy in a public space, but strictly speaking, you have no right not to get punched in the face for being a book pervert, and are either of these societal norms ones you want to test? Surely there are better ways to pass the time, like reading the many amusing MTA ads, or thinking about the causes of the terrible state of MTA financing that crowds riders together like cattle, or meditating on the discomfort of your fellow riders in an effort to deepen your empathy.
It does occur to me that reading other people's books is a dying pastime; I see fewer and fewer paper books on the subway every year. Screens seem more difficult to read from afar with their more limited angles of view, lack of page titles, and tendency to display Candy Crush.
I've recently discovered a useful feature of my iPhone that obviates the need to read articles on it at all. While I was in LA in February I was bored of listening to the radio while stuck in traffic, and I realized that in the most recent versions of iOS, you can have Siri speak articles that you've saved. There are a bunch of ways to do this: I save long reads to Instapaper, which includes a "speak" button in the free version (for $2.99 a month you can save articles to a playlist, which is very useful if you're driving and want to have a bunch of articles read to you in a row, without futzing around with your phone and crashing into a ditch).
Siri isn't perfect—she sometimes mispronounces words, especially homophones and proper names, but she's good enough, and you can even set her reading speed. On "2X," I've been plowing through four or five long reads a day—forget about your New Yorker backlog! The best part is that you get to keep your phone in your pocket on the subway, and let your eyes relax a little. Trust me, this is the single greatest thing you can do to improve your commute right now, and in a year only the very stubborn or very stupid will still be squinting at their screens.
But I digress. To summarize, keep your eyes on your own work and don't creep your fellow subway riders out—commuting is hard enough.
N.B.: You can actually have Siri read you almost any text on the screen, even if the developer doesn't make the speech function obvious, like on the Apple Kindle App. Also, if you don't like the default Siri voice, there are some other choices, although I find the default is easiest to understand on the faster speeds.
Ask a Native New Yorker anything via email. Anonymity is assured.