Replacing New York anonymity with affection
As communicative technologies become increasingly complex, Spontaneous Society shows the power of the simplest face to face affirmations.
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“LIVING IN A METROPOLIS produces an intense awareness of time,” writes Brooklyn artist/poet, and Spontaneous Society creator Jon Cotner. “Situations and people vanish before they even appear. Everything can seem so fleeting.”
“If we’re going to reach out to someone, and create a smile or conversation that otherwise wouldn’t exist, this must happen now. Otherwise it’s too late.”
Spontaneous Society is a series of guided walks through New York neighborhoods that give participants practical tools — a catalog of one-line utterances — for connecting with their worlds.
Cotner has tested each line thousands of times over thousands of blocks across multiple cities. Samples include:
“That’s a good-looking dog.” (said to someone approaching with a dog)
“That’s a good-looking duo.” (said to someone approaching with two dogs)
“That’s a good-looking wolfpack.” (said to someone approaching with three or more dogs—surprisingly common in New York)
“That looks pretty cozy.” (said to someone pushing a baby carriage)
“It must be nice to have a little helper.” (said to someone with a kid pushing a carriage or helping in another way)
“That’s a good pace.” (said to someone jogging past)
“It’s a good day for a ride.” (said to someone biking past)
“It’s a good day for a skate.” (said to someone skating past)
“That’s a good parking-spot.” (said to someone exiting a car)
“It’s a nice day for a picnic.” (said to someone eating on a bench, blanket, or doorstep)
“It’s a nice day to have the feet out.” (said to someone resting their bare feet)
“I hope the pizza pie stays warm.” (said to someone holding a pizza box)
“They say carrying bags is good exercise.” (said to someone holding heavy bags)
“That looks like a handy cart.” (said to someone pushing a handcart)
“That’s a good spot for a text.” (said to someone typing a message)
“Safe travels.” (said to someone wheeling a suitcase)
Adults, kids, even non-human animals respond to his lines. Once Jon told a man with a white parakeet on his finger: “That’s a good-looking bird.” The bird smiled then smoothed its feathers. It said “Good evening.”
Enjoy the audio here:
For more, please read Jon’s full Spontaneous Society article at the BMW Guggenheim Lab, and consider how you replace anonymity with affection starting right now.