I am a creature of the desert. I grew up in Albuquerque, a place which, among my high school cohort, we dubbed “the Wasteland” and “the Land of Entrapment”. All of us aspired to leave, as all suburban kids do, chafing at the limited nightlife, the incestuous social group, the hopeless dullness of a place grown overly familiar. We all aspired to leave, never realizing the extent to which, even in leaving, you’d take a piece of the wasteland with you. Like a tree growing in rocky ground, the environment you grow up in shapes you, leaves indelible marks.
Nearly four years of bike commuting have had a strange effect on me: I’ve become one of Those Cyclists. I have a chip on my shoulder so big it could feed a family of four.
This is strangely out-of-character for me. I’m not typically, in my day-to-day life, an aggressive person. If anything I have a tendency to be too polite, too nice, too sensitive. I usually apologize when someone bumps into me at the grocery store, as if it was my fault for being in their way. I’ve always been, in other words, the quiet type.
Yet, these days I routinely yell at drivers from my bike. I occasionally even, though I am not proud of this, resort to what is colloquially known as “the finger”.
I’ve joked that it’s inevitable, if you commute by bike for any length of time, to develop a certain attitude. You come to hate and mistrust cars. You start to wistfully think about what the world would be like if we could eliminate the private automobile entirely. You find yourself totting up the pros and cons of, say, moving to Amsterdam.
I can no longer deny it: something is changing.
Over the last few years, I feel as if my life is becoming increasingly public. Where I once went by a pseudonym in hacker and BBS communities, I now attach my real name to open source contributions. Where I once shared my thoughts on a friends-only LiveJournal, I now tweet on a daily basis. Twitter has also replaced instant messaging in my life: my day-to-day watercooler conversation, but unlike IM or ICQ, public for anyone to see.
And there is a part of me that loves that I have more of an audience now, a part of me that thrives on that feeling of connection. I have made friends by opening myself up this way, found opportunities I would never have found before. I still have a strong sense of community online, even if more and more of that community seems to take place in the public sphere.
But with that dissemination, that expansion, has come a sense of attenuation. My online presence feels scattered, with each thought feeling compelled to fit into a particular niche. I track books I’ve read on Goodreads, review films on Letterboxd, post photos to Smugmug. I post quite a bit on Twitter, occasionally even delving into more serious thoughts, but there’s only so much you can do with 140 characters.