Noting the general frenzied nature of New York life, many have put forward the opinion that the very fact of living in this City changes some people for the worst. Is this so?
The first man to put pen to paper, describing the conditions of New York life which in his opinion brought about near insanity, was Dr George M Beard in 1881. He wrote that the advent of steam power, the periodical press, the telegraph, the sciences and the mental activity of women had resulted in widespread ‘neuraesthenia’ resulting in fatigue, lassitude, irritability, hypchondria and brain collapse….presumably in New York men, the women being too caught up in their ‘mental activity’ to notice what was happening around them.
In 1901, another doctor, Dr John H Girdner, wrote a whole book on ‘NewYorkitis’. He listed the symptoms of this dread disease as haste, rudeness, excitability, anxiety and a desire to pursue everything.
It looks like both doctors were striving to describe what today we might call ‘sensory overload’. Now while it’s true that NYC is very busy, noisy and smelly with millions rushing by on the sidewalks, New Yorkers have a whole range of adaptive behaviors to keep their ‘haste’ and ‘excitability’ in check and it is a rare native who succumbs to the malady of ‘newyorkitis’ these days. But wouldn’t it be fun to be able to time travel both doctors into the present and let them get their heads around present day NYC.