When I moved to suburban Houston last summer, the cynicism and grumpiness I had nurtured during five years working in London was hidden behind a thin veneer of standoffishness. I was accustomed to putting my head down, ignoring strangers and only indulging in conversation with service industry employees when it would facilitate me leaving the premises more quickly. So it was alarming when people I didn't know said "hi" as I strided past them, eyes ahead. And those service industry employees were, in a surprising number of cases, happily concerned for my welfare ("Did you find everything you needed today?", "What can I help you with today?") rather than assisting my quest to escape by being sullenly efficient. It only took me a few days to realise that while life in London was simpler if you pretended everyone but your friends were merely in your way, things would run smoother in Clear Lake if I played the game. A few weeks later and it felt natural to be nodding my head, raising my eyebrows and mumbling "hi" to every passerby, greeting college staff and supermarket checkout folk with a smile and, at the very least, more "hi"s.
I didn't realise how deep rooted this behaviour had become until I arrived back in London a week ago. I don't expect the city to be full of people greeting every stranger they pass; the place would grind to a grinning, nodding halt pretty swiftly. But as I walk to the inner-suburban tube station every morning I pass a handful of pedestrians who stare fixedly ahead without the slightest indication of wanting to greet this stranger on his way to work. This straight-faced blanking of all other humans is all the more noticeable to me as I'm so pleased to be back. I want to smile and nod to everyone, to acknowledge they exist at times other than when they're walking too slowly, racing for a seat on the tube or elbowing past, tenner in hand, at a bar. I've been walking round grinnning inwardly at how exciting it is to be in a city full of bustling and varied people, wondering when the feeling will fade, when I'll revert back to ignoring passersby and being happy that no one says "hi".
- Not enough time to think of an original title
This networked life thing is fantastic, but it takes so long to just run my life these days. I feel a little like the guy in that Borges story who spends his whole time writing detailed diaries of his life, so he doesn't have time to actually *do* anything. (That might not be a Borges story, but it sounds like it should be. I bought a cheap copy of Labyrinths a few weeks ago so I could push myself over a $40 barrier on bn.com and thus save $10, but won't get round to reading it this year.)
- The end of the, erm, thingy
So I was reading this article at McSweeney's, while our SQL server was rebooting, giving me time to browse conscience free. And I thought "what would go through your mind if the world ended like that?" Yeah, so if some cataclysmic universe-shattering event there's not going to be a lot of time for considered reflection and life passing before your eyes, but humour me; if it was like a big-budget movie climax it would be in slow motion, from multiple expensive points of view, giving us time to witness everything blinking away into nothingness. What would flash through my mind, what would I think was happening?
- You’re only young once or more
On Saturday two of my best friends were married after nearly ten years of coupledom. Is that a lot? Ten years? I'm not sure; my four other close college friends have all been with their girlfriends for at least eight years now. So I'm wondering if this marriage will set those balls rolling, despite the anti-marriage chorus (from the guys, not the girls of course).
- Fully connected with foray into network arena
I've been feeling so damned connected this year. Perhaps it's because I was living so alone that the net's become my hometown, with me as some kind of case study for the networked society. I've had more time to browse and read what's happening in this tiny little world (my intake of real news has plummeted, replaced with websites and mailing lists). All those interconnections between endlessly self-referring webloggers, putting faces to names at SXSW, jumping on and off disparate mailing lists, sending and receiving more and more personal mail, sharing photos across contintents, ICQing, forwarding, replying, responding, updating, clicking, publishing. It's been wonderful, really knowing feeling substance to the cliché of having the world at one's fingertips.
But still, a simple phone call out of the blue can have so much more effect.
While wealthy Silicon Valley tech stars spend their money and leisure time on fast cars and extreme sports, British Internet workers are spending their downtime in a more leisurely fashion.
- You have the power of wormholes
Last night, after the not-as-thrilling-as-it-once-was This Life we switched over to see Letterman. I've only ever watched the show while sitting in my little room in suburban Houston, and this laughing man seemed like he was hosting a direct pipe into my alternate life.
Apart from eerily coincidental friends of friends links, my lives in London and Houston are completely seperate. No one from the UK has visited me in the States. Hell, so bad is the suburban wasteland, I've been advising people not to fly over. Which is a shame in a way, as I'd like to share my world of humidity, wide roads, international students, Denny's and Seinfeld. I want to say "Look, this is where I've been all these months, isn't it different from London? Mustn't I be fantastically balanced and competent to accomodate such varied existences?"
But no one, thankfully, will visit. Until I go back I'll just have these little wormholes linking me to Houston. Emails from professors, checking voicemail, a quick listen to RealAudioed KTRU, a call to the automated class-booking system, and probably more Letterman.