Milgram thought that the way we behave in cities or busy urban areas is a natural response to information overload. In the city our senses are continually assaulted. There are too many sights, sounds and other people for us to process properly. This is both the attraction of the city and its downside.
City dwellers, therefore, try to conserve their psychological energy:
- They only have superficial interactions with each other—this is encouraged by frowning or looking angry all the time.
- They keep moving and transact any business they have as quickly as possible.
- Social niceties like apologising for jostling are skipped because city dwellers have less spare processing power available.
In the city the norm is anonymity and the unwritten rule is: I’ll pretend you don’t exist if you pretend I don’t exist. City dwellers aren’t bad people (as the lost child experiment might suggest), they’re using rational strategies to deal with information overload.