There is only the haziest of jelly-filled cables connecting New York City with technology. It's not that people don't use the stuff. At every street corner you'll find people talking while looking steadfastly into space. The curious fallout of discrete hands-frees and Bluetooth headsets.
What New York City does take pride in is, one, putting together the money for a lot of the silicon and DNA bashing that takes place elsewhere. "We're the finance side of hi-tech," said one investment banker at a lunch.
It also tries to be a place where gadgets meet glamour. Fifth Avenue has its fashion houses, but it is also home to a giant transparent cube with an Apple logo inside, a spiral staircase below and a basement filled with iPod bars, iPhones and iMacs to play with. The one million customers walked into the cube sometime last autumn. Not far away is a slender Nokia showroom with pulsating light walls and whirling images. When you pick up a phone from a cradle, the tech specs sprout on a screen in front of you. No one bothers to sell anything, unless you insist. The idea: be cool, collect a buzz and watch the brand blossom.
Luddites lurk everywhere, including the Empire State. One Brooklyn state senator, Carl Kruger, has put forward a bill making it illegal for a person to be using a Blackberry or any electronic gizmo when crossing the road. The reason: two people have died doing exactly that. One was using his iPod and walked into the path of a car. There have also been several cases of people walking into poles.
Why blame the gadget? These were clearly simple cases of natural selection. Consumer electronics continuing what Charles Darwin made famous. But this being New York City someone has also developed a gun shaped like a Blackberry, for the gang member who wants to look e-connected. Said one New Yorker, "Ban girls then. Guys are more distracted by them when they cross than anything else."
The one place that was in the Dark Ages just before Christmas last year, ironically, was the makers of the clunky devices: Research in Motion. As one young woman at their holiday season office party in Canada explained, "All these people had brought so many Blackberrys — including prototypes of the next generation devices — into one room that the network collapsed." The party fell strangely silent while staffers, in any case unused to communicating with other human beings through vocal cords, tried to work out what had killed off their pocket-sized babies.
It so strongly smelt of old economy that not many New Yorkers were bothered when Microsoft formally launched Windows Vista a fortnight ago — even though they chose to kick off their $ 500 million campaign in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
Microsoft laid it on thick. Acrobats rolled out Vista and Office logos on the side of skyscrapers. A few hundred guests were fed sea bass to cannelloni to lamb chops at the upscale banquet hall Cipriani, opposite Grand Central Station.
Bill Gates, more interested in vaccines and such these days, made an appearance to note how he had first gambled on Windows in New York City in 1983. As is their wont, Manhattanites embraced what was then new and revolutionary. Vista, however, is widely seen as the end of the road. "Will there ever be another launch of a Windows avatar?" was the question most of the guests wondered. Hasta la Vista baby. The New York press merely sniffed the lamb chops had been dry. Clearly Redmond was losing interest.