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Social isolation in cities; Balance, Pro’s, Con’s and the Internet.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The ‘Happening’

An appealing aspect of every city is it’s ‘happening’. This could be translated here as: there’s movement, conversation, and just plain interaction, negative or positive, whether that be the honking of the horn or just the ‘good morning’ to the elderly man reading the paper at the café. This has always been something that is somewhat comforting, at least to myself. An example of a ‘happening’ city could be Naples, because, the core sidewalk principal that we will mention further into this article is fully in effect, and despite the city having many problems such as waste management, or crime, there is an underlying sense of happening. And of course, something to keep in mind is also the level of comfort each person has when it comes to being close, or around, to borderline illegal activities. The streets are packed, scooters flying up and down the street, people talking, arguing, people exchanging services on the street and not just in shops, the list goes on. This sense of happening helps someone who could be a victim of social isolation feel grounded, balancing between the familiarity of being in cities, and knowing that if there’s something they need to know, if the word is out, the sidewalks will be the first place to find out.

Streets of Naples (Napoli). Naples, Campania, Italy, South Europe.


The Internet also plays a part in this in 2017, as it’s a hub of information, but the one thing separates it from a city, is of course, it’s human interaction. And although the information that you get on the city sidewalk is conditioned to whom you’re talking to, and not to thousands of sources, the difference is that you are able to have a human discussion with this person, and not just the long deep stare into a screen, searching until you find something vaguely similar to the answer you were hoping to find from your search engine. This social isolation also occurs because a lot of times, we, or at least I, fall into the mistake of underestimating our fellow humans and assuming they don’t know about my interests, or about what I’m looking for. Chances are, if you risk conversation, they actually will. And if they don’t, oh well, that’s the beauty of discussion. And that’s the beauty of sidewalk chatter, conversation and interaction in the city.


This happening is present in the sidewalks of large cities and mostly the social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character doesn’t need to have any special talent or wisdom to fulfill his function – although he often does. He just needs to be present. His main qualification is that he be public, and that he talks to a lot of different people, instigating and creating interaction and discussion, leading us to conclude that news actually travels faster in these urban areas, seeing how sidewalks can serve as steady flows of information.

Social isolation in cities, and its virtues and disadvantages

I wanted to find out more about how different people handle stress. I read up on an article that explained that city dwellers’ brains, compared with people who live in the countryside, seem not to handle it so well.

The example given in the article was from a case study by Dr. Meyer-Lindenberg and his colleagues, where, as they were stressing out their subjects, they were looking at two brain regions: the amygdala and the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC). The amygdala is known to be involved in assessing threats and generating fear, while the pACC in turn helps to regulate the amygdala. It turned out that in stressed citydwellers, the amygdala appeared more active on the scanner; in people who lived in small towns, less so; in people who lived in the countryside, least of all.


Here the important relationship was not with where the subjects lived at the time, but where they grew up. An erratic link between the pACC and the amygdalas is often seen in those with schizophrenia too. And according to the data, schizophrenic people are much more likely to live in cities.

Dutch Dr. Jaap Peen and his team found out in their meta-analysis that living in a city roughly doubles the risk of schizophrenia. To explain inner-city and urban–rural variations in psychiatric morbidity, there are two main theoretical concepts, which originated from the early ecological research of schizophrenia, and from the Chicago School of Sociology: There’s the ‘drift hypothesis’ and the ‘breeder hypothesis.’ The ‘drift hypothesis’ assumes that sick and vulnerable people are more or less doomed to remain in socially unstable, deprived neighborhoods, while better off people move away. On the other hand, socially deprived neighborhoods can also have a pull-function on sick and vulnerable people, as they move to these areas with low social control and greater tolerance towards deviant behavior, this being what they call the ‘social drift hypothesis’.

The second theory, the ‘breeder hypothesis’, assumes that various environmental factors cause illness. These can be physical factors (air pollution, small housing, population density) and also social factors (stress, life events, perinatal aspects, social isolation). A lot of the stress factors mentioned above are more common in urbanized areas. Urbanization is modestly but consistently associated with the prevalence of psychopathology. They even suggest that levels of urbanization should also be taken into account when planning the allocation of mental health services.

“Obviously our brains are not perfectly shaped for living in urban environments,” Dr. Adli says. “In my view, if social density and social isolation come at the same time and hit high-risk individuals … then city-stress related mental illness could be the consequence.”

Cities, the theory goes, might be part of the reason why a person’s dopamine production starts to go wrong in the first place. Repeated stress is thought to lead to this problem in some people, so if high social density combined with social isolation could be shown to do so, and thus to alter the dopamine system, we might have the first rough sketches of a map from city living that leads all the way to schizophrenia, and perhaps other things.

Many other possible impacts of city living on brain function are also being investigated. Aircraft noise might inhibit children’s learning, according to a recent study from Queen Mary University in London. (Although traffic noise, perversely, might help it.) Researchers in the US and elsewhere have also found that exposure to nature seems to offer a variety of beneficial effects to city dwellers, from improving mood and memory, to alleviating ADHD in children.



I found that the perfect balance of social isolation between keeping to yourself and social interaction in a city was the ability to be able to wander and explore, go out on the hunt for information, but always have a private base to return to, to let loose and relax. Privacy is precious in cities. It is indispensable. Perhaps it is precious and indispensable everywhere, but in most places around the world you aren’t allowed as much of it. In small settlements everyone knows your affairs. Whilst in the city nobody does, unless you allow them in. This is one of the attributes of cities that is unique to city dwellers, whether their incomes are high or their incomes are low.

According to Jane Jacobs, in her book The Death And Life of Great American Cities, “A good city neighborhood achieves a marvel of balance between its people’s determination to have essential privacy and their simultaneous wishes for differing degrees of contact, enjoyment or help from the people around them. This balance is widely made up of small, sensitively managed details, practiced and accepted so casually that they are normally taken for granted.”

The more common outcome in cities, where people are faced with the choice of sharing much or nothing, is nothing. In city areas that lack a natural and casual public life, it is common for residents to isolate themselves from each other to a marked degree. If mere contact with your neighbors threatens to entangle you in their private lives, or entangle them in yours, and if you cannot be so careful who your neighbors are as compared to people who can be, the logical solution will seem to then be avoiding friendliness or casual offers of help. Better to stay thoroughly distant.

It’s important to recognize that a lot of adults either don’t want to become involved in any friendship relationships at all with their neighbors, or if they do succumb to the need for some form of society, they strictly limit themselves to one or two friends, and no more.  And the individualism and privacy that comes with city living makes it possible to choose to be solitary, which a lot of people find hard to deal with, but for a lot of people it is actually a luxury. So compared to town living, where interaction with your neighbors is almost inevitable, city living provides a choice; whether to keep to yourself or to socialize, and this is a choice that for many people can be quite hard to handle.

In light of the increasing push for us to work at home, here’s an interesting statistic from Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist and the author of Bowling Alone (which looked at how social ‘glue’ such as bowling clubs, which were so prevalent in 1950s America, have almost disappeared). It comes from a New Yorker article about commuting: “I was shocked to find how robust a predictor of social isolation commuting is,” said Putnam “There’s a simple rule of thumb: Every ten minutes of commuting results in ten per cent fewer social connections. Commuting is connected to social isolation, which causes unhappiness.”


I’ve come to conclude that although I do feel like a very open and city involved person, I need to know that I always have a safe haven to return to, where I can shut the blinds and lock society out for whatever time necessary. And what’s interesting about this in today’s day and age is that although we shut ourselves out, we still have access to the Internet and social networking. Being connected to the Internet let’s us control our interaction with the outside public world. Comparing the Internet to let’s say, the sidewalk interactions of a busy city is quite simple. We have, of course, the human vs. screen interaction, but more importantly, the Internet enables us to be in total control of what we discuss, and more importantly gives us freedom to search for answers from numerous sources instead of resorting to information from whomever is around. This isolation can be healthy or unhealthy for some, depending on who you are and how you deal with it, but without a good balance, it all falls apart.





The Blind make the Blind See

Monday, December 9, 2013

When I walked along the bookshelves, trying to find the most interesting book in the entire library (which is quite a task I have to say), the first thing I noticed that I was not able to read the title on the spine of one of the books I was passing. Usually I would just pass by the book, like people pass by signs written in a language they do not understand, besides, I am not interested in books which are not worth adding the title on the spine of the book. It is almost like the designer tries to tell you already that it is not worth it.

Though the title was on the spine of this book and it was in English.

The reason why I could not read the title of the book is because the title is written in braille. Not in the way of feel-able braille but in big and small dots. The dots are printed in silver on purple, reflecting the light in the room which makes it even harder to ‘read’ or recognize the text.

So I decided half consciously, half unconsciously to take the book from the bookshelf to take a closer look at the cover. I reached out to the book and grabbed it from the shelf. Because I am right-handed the first thing of the book I see, when I pull it from between the other books, is the backside. (Provided that it was not placed upside-down or backwards on the bookshelf, which was not the case here.)

Help me, I am blind - cover[3] Help me, I am blind - cover[2] Help me, I am blind - cover


I now realize that it is a pity books are to be read from left to right. Since then the front of the book is on the left side of the cover. Because of this and the fact that the majority of the people is right-handed, you will always see the back of the book first when you get it off a bookshelf. Most books are designed with the thought that you will see the front of the book first and the back last. If you experience the book the other way around, you get answers before you even have questions, causing you not to be interested in looking any further.

So I grabbed the book from the bookshelf with my right hand. Unintentionally already reading the back of the book, which contained both the title, the writer and photographer of the book. So when I turned the book in my hands to the front it already was not a question anymore what this previously so intriguing text in dots on the front of the book meant. Though what I immediately noticed when turning the book in my hands was the nice manageability of it. It has the size of a small purse, a slightly bit smaller than A5 paper format, which makes it very hand-able.

I personally always appreciate this very much in a book. I do not like to read books which are so big you can barely hold them or so small you can not even hold the pages without covering at least a quarter of the page with your thumbs. In my opinion reading a book should be a pleasant and comfortable activity, independent of  the content being pleasant or not. Unless, of course, it was the artists specific intention for the book to be not comfortable or pleasant in its physical appearance.

Help me, I am blind - side.jpg


Another thing I noticed, when turning the book in my hands, was that the cover was filled with one big picture spread over both the front, spine and back, keeping the three connected as one. The picture slightly being out of focus suggests the view of a sunset with an object reminding me of a curtain partly covering the view. Also this raises questions, it being partly unclear about what you are seeing. You can quite clearly recognize the sunset though the object in front is raising questions as ‘what is this object?’ and ‘where are you when this object is in your view?’ The last thing I noticed before actually opening the book was that the sides of the papers were black, matching the dark design of the cover well. The black edges keeps the book together, prevent the book from splitting up in paper en cover.



When I opened the book on the first page, I was confronted with two numbers divided by a short horizontal line. When taking a closer look I found out that those two numbers stand for the passing time in the book. The texts in the book start on 12/05/2009 and ends on 08/06/2009 covering 27 days of  the southern hemispheres autumn and the northern hemispheres spring and summer. Every single day in that month is represented in the book. First by one or more pictures than by a text. These pictures (by Heidi Specker) from Australia are given another meaning through the texts (by Theo Deutinger) from Rotterdam.

The Book is build up in such a way that you are first confronted with one or more pictures, allowing you to find your own connection with and between those pictures. All these photos cover a spread, only allowing you to take in one photo at a time. While looking through these photos there is never one clear answer to the question what connects them. Is it a subject? An abstract keyword? Or just the day those pictures were taken?

Take A Quick Look Inside

The groups of pictures are followed by the texts, which always start with the date and the title on top of each other divided by a short horizontal line. All the texts start on the right page, leaving an empty white page on the left. This empty page is very pleasant when going through the book since it allows you a deep breath after those very informative photos. The content of the text seems to be based on the photos without any further knowledge gained from the photographer. They start right from what you see and develop into a more personal description from the writers perspective.

The book ends with the photo from the cover (which turns out to be an airplane window) and the text:

‘For a moment I totally forgot why I am on this Lufthansa flight heading to Frankfurt. Or isn’t it me who is flying? Suddenly I have the feeling that I have never been to Australia at all.’ – 090608, Evidence

In this way Christoph Keller both brings back and abandons the distance between Heidi Specker, the photographer, who was there to experience Australia through making photos and Theo Deutinger, the writer, who experienced Australia through the photos and his texts.
For more information on the designer Christopher Keller have a look at this: [link]

Rietveld library catalog no: spe 1

Networked Encounters Of The Nth Kind

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This thesis by Daniel de Zeeuw won the 2011 Rietveld Thesis award. The Jury rapport  said: “a very thorough research on internet and its relation to notions of conspiracy. A text in which everything is so well connected and hangs so good together that the reader starts suspecting a conspiracy. Daniel has such a complete knowledge of the field he is writing about and has such an extensive grip on the vast amount of literature he has handled that the text sometimes starts looking like a PhD dissertation“.

You could hear voices no mainstream media would ever dare to speak

With the rise of the Internet, a special realm of being has exploded and taken on enormous proportions. Between the mass-medial hermeneutic machines and the sub-medial everyday is now another world-historical playing field: below the thresholds of newspapers and television stations, but broadly distributed and encoded through visual formats nonetheless: a self-replicating and self-distributing of the General Intellect, including the infectious diseases that torture it. We are all potential witnesses and accomplices to what is going on anywhere, anytime, or so it seems. The structure of the Internet is like a conspiracy theory.

Download this thesis: Something Is Out there! Networked Encounters of the nth Kind: The Art of Conspiracy

[images Graduation Show, Daniel de Zeeuw]


from the jury rapport: Something Is Out there! Networked Encounters of the nth Kind: The Art of Conspiracy is according to the jury a very thorough research on internet and its relation to notions of conspiracy. A text in which everything is so well connected and hangs so good together that the reader starts suspecting a conspiracy. Daniel has such a complete knowledge of the field he is writing about and has such an extensive grip on the vast amount of literature he has handled that the text sometimes starts looking like a PhD dissertation.


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