February, a month that sounds like a bruise. The weather in New York City feels like one, too. Purple skies and an endless string of days in the mid-forties. And still no snow. Meanwhile, two billionaires are vying to become the Democratic candidate for president by purchasing wall-to-wall advertising and buying everyone who’s for sale. Today the richest man in the world purchased the most expensive house in the world for 165 million dollars. It was only 0.8% of his wealth.

Seems like we spend a lot of time at home these days. Nearly every advertisement on the subway trumpets the virtue of having your favorite meals, outfits, entertainments, mattresses, and toothbrushes delivered to your door. Walking down First Avenue this afternoon, I caught a glimpse of all of us cocooned in our little overpriced flats, turning ever more inward. A dead city. This is a crotchety observation, I know, and it’s not particularly new. Here’s Richard Sennett in 1977, bemoaning the loss of ambient relationships between strangers that once defined parks, cafes, and sidewalks:

Each person’s self has become his principal burden; to know oneself has become an end, instead of a means through which one knows the world. And precisely because we are so self-absorbed, it is extremely difficult for us to arrive at a private principle, to give any clear account to ourselves or to others of what our personalities are . . . Masses of people are concerned with their single life-histories and particular emotions as never before; this concern has proved to be a trap rather than a liberation.

Sennett goes on to say that every individual is “in some measure a cabinet of horrors,” but The Fall of Public Man is fundamentally an optimistic book that celebrates living among strangers as essential to defining our personalities and purpose. So I approached the lady behind the counter at Walgreens with a smile. “Use the self-checkout machine over there,” she said without looking up from her phone.