This precursor of urban sociology analyses metropolitan life’s impact on the personality. Throughout history, Simmel sees people resisting ‘being leveled down and worn out by a social-technological mechanism’.
Now the high tempo of sensory impressions causes over-intellectualising, while commerce’s speed, anonymity and complexity (and the ‘universal diffusion of pocket watches’) make man more ‘calculating’. Self-protective tactics include: the blasé attitude; an outward ‘reserve’ suggesting ‘latent antipathy’; and excessive efforts to ‘stand out’. Simmel concludes ambiguously: metropolitan man is freer than his small-town contemporary, but also lonelier; collective culture flourishes through the city, but cultural consumers cease to think for themselves.
Related recommendation: Aleksandr Blok’s ‘The People and the Intelligentsia’ (1908)
Themes: Modernity and Self-consciousness, Nature or Architecture/ Material Environment, New Technology
Genres: Spiritual or Philosophical Meditation