The anti-solipsism of the London Underground

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I have only just got around to reading John Lanchester’s delightful meditation on the London Underground. I missed it when it was published in the newspaper, but enough people shared it on social media that Twitter saw fit to e-mail it to me as a recommended story.

The essay deals with the rich topic of how we manage to be ‘alone’ in public places. Lanchester describes of the masques we wear and the techniques we use to create mental space to dwell within even though our physical personal space is invaded by other people at rush-hour.

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The Fate of My Namesakes

Tia Sharp Missing Poster

It’s Wednesday evening and we’re on the Victoria Line. A young man strums a guitar and sings while his friend harmonises. Their refrain is “You mean the world to me” and I don’t know whether that’s a popular song in the charts that I have never heard, or of it is their own composition. I hope the latter.

The train pulls into Stockwell Station, where Jean Charles De Menezes was shot dead by CO5 officers. It is also the interchange with the Northern Line, so we get up to leave.

In quick succession, two images drift into my eye-line and draw my attention for the same reason. First, there is a photograph in the Evening Standard of an athlete in Team GB colours, her surname pinned to her chest. It is Lynsey Sharp, the Scot who has qualified for the final of the 800 metres.

Lynsey Sharp at Loindon 2012
Lynsey Sharp at Loindon 2012, after qualifying for the 800 metre final.

Then, as I step off the train and walk towards the tunnel to the other platforms, I double-take at a crude A4 photocopy taped to the tiles. It announces the disappearance of 12 year old Tia Sharp. She is a Londoner and has been missing for six days, but these facts have not penetrated my consciousness until now.
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The Underground Project

A fascinating link that has been doing the rounds recently is the Live London Tube Map by Matthew SomervilleThe link is meant to be here, but at present (24/6/2010) it is not active… probably because so many people re-tweeted it and I guess it makes pretty heavy demands on the servers of Transport For London, who provide the raw location data.

I know many people share a fascination for watching or listening to events and processes that happen in real-time.  During the shuttle missions, I like to listen to the communications between the astronauts and Houston; ATC audio holds the same fascination, as does FlightRadar’s graphical representations of live air traffic around Europe.  Chris Heathcote has created a page of TFL cams, showing live images from London’s roads; and subscribers to the Shoreditch Digital Bridge project are just as keen to watch each other via CCTV as they are to watch actual programmes.

The appearance of Matt’s tube page inspires me to post a short concept for an urban game that I wrote a few years ago, uploaded to a wiki, and then failed to develop much further.  It is reproduced below.  I sense that Foursquare may actually perform many similar functions, though I haven’t used that platform yet.  Either way, it would be great to get some input from people like those who run LiveFiction and Hide&Seek.
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