Alone on the Train

The modern city is a thriving and busy place, yet in such a crowded area, individuals seem to be miles apart. Simmel (1964) argues that the city is an over-stimulating place full of people objects and events, and consequently, city dwellers respond selectively to their environments and are engaged in impersonal and specialized relationships. The city has an inexhaustible variety of life and activity: “with each crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational and social life, the city sets up a deep contrast with small town and rural life with reference to the sensory foundations of psychic life” (Simmel, 1964: 410).

London Underground Workers Participate In The first Of Two 48-Hour Strikes

Simmel asserts that consequently, city dwellers develop a blasé attitude, treating people impersonally and acknowledging them only for what they do and contribute to society. There is a mutual acceptance by the community that everyone is in pursuit of their own interests, and so strangers in any environment are not expected to exchange more than pleasantries. This intrinsic nature of the city is evident particularly on public transport.

Chu (2012) speculates that while humans are inherently social creatures, there are unspoken rules of individuality and detachment on public transport. It is uncommon and often uncomfortable for strangers to interact, and communication does occur, it will usually be brief and trivial. The article states that such disengagement is related to uncertainty about strangers, a lack of personal space, and exhaustion (Chu, 2012).


Chu, N. 2012, ‘Public transit psychology: anti-social behaviour on buses’, Gondola Project, September 4, blog post, viewed September 20 2014,

Simmel, G. 1964, ‘The metropolis and mental life’, in KH Wolff (ed.), The Sociology of Georg Simmel, The Free Press, New York, pp. 409-424

Urry, J. 2000, ‘Mobile Sociology’, in British Journal of Sociology, vol. 51, no. 1, London School of Economics, London, pp. 185-203

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