There are certain rules that we all implicitly agree to live by in New York City. Such as: don’t interact on the subway or in the streets when you can do it on Craigslist; don’t make eye contact unless at least two alcoholic beverages in; don’t try to be friends unless in a pre-approved friendship-making facility, like work, the bar, or maybe the gym. As such, we weren’t all that surprised to hear about backlash to Morgan Stanley software developer Solomon Lederer, who was profiled in a Wall Street Journal about his quest to make the New York City subway a friendlier place. But we were surprised to hear that he had been fired.
This, basically, was Lederer’s shtick with his Underground Connection project.:
Awkward? Yes. Cringe-worthy? A bit. Even annoying, depending on which side of the bed you got up on. But a fireable offense? Or, for that matter, something you would consider warning work that you were doing, assuming you weren’t doing it while you should actually be at work?
So the guy was trying to “connect with other human beings in the real world, and perhaps turn strangers into friends” by offering stuff like packing/moving help, “love,” and, hmm, help finding a job. It’s actually sort of earnest and sweet, even though we’d likely have turned up the volume on our iPods if we found ourselves on one of his B-trains without warning.
A week after the story came out in the Journal, Lederer lost his job. Per the Journal,
Morgan Stanley’s employee code of conduct bars workers from representing themselves in a media outlet as an employee without prior permission, but it’s not necessarily a fireable offense, according to a source familiar with the policy.
The firm’s publicist claims it wasn’t due to the article, but Lederer thinks that his participation in the story led to his dismissal. His boss, apparently, told him he “exhibited poor judgment.”
Would such an effort — that is, pushing hardened New Yorkers to interact and perhaps even appreciate one another for something other than mutually regimented silence ever actually succeed? Perhaps not. But you have to have dreamers, right? Maybe just not at Morgan Stanley. (Via Lederer’s blog, it seems like he was getting some positive reactions.)
We can’t help remembering the time we were on the subway just, as per usual, minding our own business, when a guy pretended to be unaware of a woman sitting down and sat directly on top of her. Not done! Everyone looked on in horror until suddenly it became clear that that the two knew each other. Hilarity ensued. The codes were broken; the transgressors redeemed. Strangers looked at each other and smiled, everyone forgot about their daily shit-grind for a moment or two. Maybe that’s what life could be like, if we all had poor judgment.
Now that Lederer’s got time to fully devote himself to the effort, we shall see. Apparently he’s already gotten a date, at least.