Overheard in New York

There is something artistic about unintentional examples of life. We always see paintings of bowls of fruit, black and white photographs of people walking their dogs, or books about people going about their lives. In March of 2000, UC Berkley student Benjamin Stewart founded a website called In Passing, which listed overheard snippets of conversations, which when removed from their native context, opened up a plethora of alternative meanings and artistic resonance. The format and content of this site was compelling, and in 2003, S. Morgan Friedman began the first of a series of sites patterned after In Passing, called Overheard in New York.

Vital Social Issues & Stuff

Friedman’s site is more stylized and localized than its progenitor. Since all of the quotes come from various parts of New York City, a lot of the context is very unique. References are often made by tourists asking, what seems to the “spy,” to be a silly question. One example is a woman who asked where the World Trade Center was. In all likelihood, she knew it had been destroyed and was asking how to get to what was then known as “Ground Zero,” but the question’s naiveté presents a kind of audacity that blends humor with political satire.

Other quotes bang on the drums of other social issues. The comments often appear to deal with issues relating to gender, race, social class, money, sex, and quite often sexually transmitted diseases. These myriad contexts reveal the speaker’s personality, values, and relationship with the world. It is a revealing and compelling way to see that artistic “slice of life.”

Variations on a Theme

Other sister sites have cropped up. There are office, beach, and other local versions of this site in addition to preexisting installations like In Passing, which draws quotes from Berkley, California. These all present their own blends of humor and unique quotes, but few lack the flavor seen in the New York version. This may be because the New York version receives the most attention, work, and content.


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