Friday, 12 April 2019

Boring spaces I: Things to do at Times Square (NYC, Jan 2019)

My hotel was located close to Times Square. I had to go there. I had to see it. I am in Times Square. I am amazed by the quality of the big size video screens. The constantly changing patterns on the screen underline the artificial nature of the place. I visit the place at night. But there is no room for darkness. The square is brighter than most places, I have visited on that grey and cold day. I have to think of Vilém Flusser’s essay on our codified world. Flusser (1997) reminds us that at the beginning of the 20th century the world used to be far less colourful:
Our environments are filled with colours, which by day and by night, in public and in private space, are whispering and screaming to get our attention. ... We are exposed to a constant stream of colours; we are programmed by colours. (Flusser 1997, p. 21, my translation)
But what to do at Times Square? The images on the screen support Flusser's considerations and suggest that I am being programmed to go shopping. I don’t want to go shopping. But what else to do a Times Square? The urban furniture invites me to take a seat. I could sit there and watch the activities on the square. I have to think about James Conlon's reflections about sitting on a bench in Central Park, which is just a few blocks away. He reminds us that watching people in public is, after all, an important part, maybe even the origin of Philosophy:
Socrates began his philosophical work by abandoning astronomy and turning his attention instead to the human diversity collected in the agora. … Only in the city are eyes granted such continuous opportunity for staring, for the sustained and intense observation of human behaviour so basic to philosophy. (Conlon 1999, pp 205-207)
I tend to agree with Conlon, given the fact that most philosophers do actually live and work in - or at least - close to cities. I am actually guilty of doing philosophy in public spaces, where I can experience the being together with strangers. - Yet, these considerations do not seem to apply to Times Square. I can't imagine what to do here; hence, I fail to imagine what other people can do here. I leave Times Square behind. I actually enjoyed being there. I do enjoy the spectacle. Yet, there is nothing much to do, besides enjoying the spectacle. After a while, the spectacle becomes boring.


  • Conlon, James (1999): Cities and the place of Philosophy. In: S. M. Meagher (ed.) (2008). Philosophy and the City (pp. 199-209). New York: State University of New York Press.
  • Flusser, Vilém (1997): Die kodifizierte Welt. In: V. Flusser: Medienkultur. Edited by Stefan Bollmann. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch. – The text was originally published in 1978.


The text is part of the manuscript of my talk “The right kind of boring space” delivered at the Future City Foundation on April 5, 2019. I plan to publish a total of four blogs based on the talk.