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Overheard in New York (OHinNY) is the brainchild of 30-year-old Morgan Friedman. Empathizing with a conversation a hipster and his girlfriend were having in a cafe in Brooklyn in 2003, Friedman decided that what they were saying was worth writing down. He then published those quotes for the whole world to see. Friedman and his "trusted spies" of five friends combed the streets of New York listening for interesting and entertaining bits of conversation to post on OhinNY. One recent favorite, overheard in downtown Manhattan: A tourist asks a cop for directions, and he replies, "See that naked Chinese guy? Walk down to him and make a left." Since 2003, OHinNY has expanded into two other blogs, Overheard in the Office and Overheard at the Beach, and the spy network of five friends has turned into hundreds sending e-mails describing the latest entertaining quotes "overheard" on the streets of New York.
What does it feel like to be a professional voyeur?
It's a lot of fun. It's especially fun because a lot of people know this blog and know me through the site, but they don't know what I look like.
What did you set out to accomplish with Overheard in New York?
The blog has a couple of objectives. The most obvious is that it's a humor blog its purpose is to entertain. At the same time, there are a couple more subtle things happening. One is that the actual way people talk is very different than the way we think people talk. When you're watching a TV show like Friends, the dialogue from the script is nothing like the way people actually talk to one another random and full of non-sequiturs. OHinNY tries to capture authentic speech, diction and syntax, making it a fun, living record of how people talk. Imagine if OHinNY existed in 1906... The blog is an interesting contribution to an archive of what life is like today, as well as a re-creation of what it's like to walk down the street in New York. There could be a Hassidic Jew on your left mumbling things you can't understand and an Asian hipster on your right on his cell phone. It's a complete cast of characters saying things that are being thrown at you simultaneously.
Do you think you're overstepping any privacy boundaries?
The short answer is no. But the long answer is, I think about this all the time. A few hours ago, a quote was posted on OHinNY about "Tom." When I looked to see who had linked to OHinNY that day, Tom had found the quote and identified himself on his own blog as the guy on OHinNY. There's no other information provided in the post except for his first name, Tom, but the blog is popular enough that even if it's technically private, it's really easy to deduce who someone is, and that has very interesting ramifications. I think the better comparison is reality television people really want to be on it. It's a compliment in a weird, 21st century kind of way.
Do you consider your blog a gossip blog or a commentary on social issues?
It's a New York version of the gossip blog. The California version of the gossip blog is captions about all the famous people and what they're doing. The New York gossip blog is about the unknown person walking down the street next to us. I do consider it a gossip blog and I love to gossip about people I don't know. I like social situations that are similar to my own. That's where OHinNY derives a lot of its humor.
What's your demographic like?
The demographic of the readers is different than the demographic of the speakers. The audience of the blog is largely a yuppie-type crowd. A lot of the great quotes come from non-yuppies, especially the homeless. The best quotes are from the intersection of these different socioeconomic classes in New York. OHinLA would be boring because it would be about celebrities and everyone is in their car. But in New York you have the yuppie standing right next to the ranting homeless man on the subway platform. No matter how much money you have or where you come from, everyone is right next to each other. OHinNY is this weird way of bringing together these different people that in the real world don't have any connection to each other at all. I think the best quotes come from the exact point of this intersection.