What would the New York City's main tourist attraction look like to time traveler from 1971?
After 44 years in prison, Otis Johnson wasn't ready for the world of electronic billboards and smartphones he found in Times Square.
"I ain't never seen nothing like this before," Johnson said of the billboards in a video posted Tuesday by Al Jazeera English.
The society that Johnson, 69, has rejoined is drastically different than the one he left when he was incarcerated for the attempted murder of a police officer at age 25.
That's perhaps most evident in Times Square, where the pay phones of yore are obsolete and passersby talk into their earbud microphones and look at their cell phone screens, rather than the sidewalk in front of them.
"They seemed to have things in their ears," Johnson said of the New Yorkers streaming past him. "And I thought in my mind, what, everybody become CIA or agents and stuff like that? Because that's the only thing I could think of...”
Johnson is also mystified by pedestrians absorbed in their smartphones: "Some people are not even looking where they’re going, so I'm trying to figure out how people do: control themselves to walk and talk on the phone."
He has us scratching our heads, too: "I like the buses because you see different things and you also communicate with less people," he explains. (When's the last time you met a New Yorker who prefers buses to subways?)
But his fresh perspective makes us thankful for a city that's always stimulating for those who have the opportunity to study it: "I like being in the sun and also observing people," Johnson says. "It's nice to be free."