Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Moving Ahead

I haven't been making as much progress recently as I've wanted. But not because I don't know what do to but because it's just easier not to take action. I tell myself there's always another day etc. So I decided to write a mission statement each week on this blog and report back at the end of the week on my success or failure. This way I am held accountable. While the path is still murky I know I won't get clarity unless I try something.

I do have a vision of what I want the end result to look like which I never really explained so I will do so now. I want to create a social network on the subway that allows us to connect with one another while we ride and then possibly continue these relationships off the train. And the group will have a number of predefined purposes so it won't be just about meeting someone and chatting randomly. The reason for this is because it's hard to just make conversation with a stranger, but with a clearly defined motive it's easier. The way I imagine this being played out is that we all wear armbands of different colors or patterns that designate what we are interested in, perhaps blue to discuss music with a fellow rider and exchange a listen on each other's ipod, perhaps orange to share something personal or get advice, etc. And then possibly take it to the next level where we are doing things for and with each other off the train. Of course this will really be practical once we grow big enough so there is someone on nearly every train car wearing an armband. (I did get really excited about this armband idea and have spoken to a manufacturer in China about making them--30¢ or 60¢ with logo.) I also think once there is a critical mass of people doing this, it will change the whole dynamic and culture on the subway. So instead of riding to work in silence there will be another option. And for those not in the know about the group will nevertheless experience a different vibe sitting on a train where people are interacting.

So the overall mission is to build this social group! A couple days last week I pitched the idea in this way on the train. While I got some great positive responses, it became very clear to me that I need to start doing this with a partner. Start with 2 then move on to 3 and so on. If it's just me then many people think I'm a lone nut. And for those who don't think so are still reluctant engage me on the train because they don't want to be the person caught talking to the lone nut. I know this because people very often come up to me when I walk off the train or when they are about to get off and ask for a card. And for those that do stop me on the train I can tell that they are self conscious about having people watch us talk.

Now getting down to this week's mission: Get a friend to come out with me on the train to act as my first buddy in this social network.

More specifically, we get on the train together, I give a little intro talk about starting a subway social network, introduce my friend and ask if anyone wants to join us. Present it as if we're 2 morning commuters who ride this train every day to work. And we hand out cards with our contact info. But in addition we will demonstrate the social network in action by doing something with each other. My current idea is I will say that today we decided to reveal to each other something really personal or embarrassing, and we then each scribble on a paper our confession and exchange it with the other. This will get people interested and curious but we won't reveal what we wrote. But it's something everyone can imagine doing too if they became a part of the group. I have a few friends that I've made through starting this subway thing that are good candidates and plan to find one of them to join me on this, either J., T., C., K., M., or N. (using first initial for now).  I am giving myself until next Thursday November 11 to get this done!


  1. If I was there, I would SO join you! I admire what you are doing! ^_^

  2. I've seen you on the train a couple times and totally admire this idea. I actually walk to work as much as possible instead of taking the train because I think it humanizes the city a bit more then the train does. Sometimes when things are happening on there, especially things that are wrong, I've spoken up, but it is always a challenge. Kind of like the good samaritan problem. I think if people felt more of a community atmosphere maybe a lot of those situations would be avoided in the first place. But then, of course there is a sense of constant transience and some comfort in that anonymity, as well. So I understand the trade-off.
    What is your long-term objective on this? I'm still a bit fuzzy on that. I get that you, in a way are asking people to define that themselves as this project transpires organically, but I think a bit more revelation on that might help. I know a lot of marketers are using the subway and flash mobs as a way to bring attention to a cause or a product. But if you are trying to create a community or a group, it would be helpful to know who you see as that group.

    Regular F train riders seems a bit large to call a community, I think. We might need an objective that unites us a bit more. And please don't take that as discouraging. In a world of big business, it's important for people to feel that they are empowered to be able to enact change (one that doesn't have to actually break into a full-scale revolution in order to work). And change that is simply for good without anyone benefitting on an actual profit margin. With the way our society is organized right now, that way of thinking is a hard one for most people to understand and trust in, I think. But it's the same reason I pick up trash I see in my neighborhood or decorate outside for the holidays. I feel a sense of ownership and community and thus responsibility to the community I am part of. I don't know--maybe it was the Quaker high-school I attended that rubbed off on me. But I do think right now, the project seems a bit metamorphosic so it's difficult for people to see themselves in it's reflection. Just something to think about in terms of selling it. Know your audience and start by making it about them.
    And technically you are invading people's personal shared space, to in a sense, create a new personally shared space. Not a bad thing and something I remind myself of, every time I get annoyed at what seems like rude behavior. It would be nice if people treated each other in the subway as if this person could be on their way to the same desk as you, your next possible employer, your friend's sister, etc. I try to keep that in mind every time someone who isn't paying attention to holding on, stamps on my foot or rushes in front to grab a seat. I probably wouldn't get huffy at someone I knew in the same circumstances, right? Right. But I wouldn't be silent either and I think that might be where people get confused. You aren't doing favors by sitting there steaming at your fellow passengers. There's a way to circumvent getting huffy and just bearing it that allows both people to leave the situation feeling good. And I think that starts with understanding that you both are part of a shared community with a responsibility towards each other.

    Regardless, a smile and kind word can go a long way and I give you some serious props and credit for being brave enough to try this experiment out.

  3. I am so intrigued by this idea. I don't take the F but you came on the M train one morning and I think your pitch was great.

    It helps that you look like a regular guy going to work. good luck! I will start carrying my pad of colored construction paper with me on my way to work! :)