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Virtual Water Cooler

“Someone smells a little too human at Trader Joe’s.” — Shindotv on Twitter

I bowed forward 90 degrees and slowly lifted my right leg into the air behind me, like a ballerina only not as graceful. I maintained a shaky balance on my left leg for as long as I could before my right leg came down to prevent me from eating it on the cold concrete. Bored with my one-woman balancing act, I skipped down the cement path toward David, who was fiddling with his camera on a tripod. “How long is this exposure?”

“Twelve minutes,” he said. “Why, you have somewhere to be?”

“Nope, just curious.” I straightened my back and drew air in through my nostrils, trying to capture the sweet-tea scent of each and every one of the countless blooming roses that surrounded us. I let out my breath and then inhaled again, convinced the bluish white light of the full moon, so low in the sky, was somehow enhancing the flowers’ natural perfume. The clouds were moving fast, and a colossal cluster soon cloaked the milky orb. “That’s probably not good for the long exposure,” I said. David nodded in agreement and sighed at the uncooperative sky.

Usually, David would freak if I created any visual disturbance within the camera’s periphery, but seeing as the photo was most likely a goner anyway, I went ahead and turned on my iPhone. Because my eyes had adjusted to the moonlight, the unnatural brightness was at first difficult to behold. I tapped the screen, waited for a page to load, and began typing away. “What are you doing?” David asked.

“Twittering,” I said.

David caught himself mid eye-roll, slapped a more amenable expression on his face, and said, “What are you writing?”

“Just how beautiful the rose garden in Balboa Park is after dark on a December evening,” I said. “It’s so pretty out here, I wanted to capture the moment, let people know it’s a cool place to visit at night.” I put my phone back in my purse and gave him my full attention while we waited for his camera to finish its time-lapse shot.

David doesn’t Twitter. Nor does he Facebook. He’s never been on MySpace, Tribe, or Friendster because, as he says, he doesn’t feel compelled to broadcast his life. In person, David mostly keeps to himself, only offering up information when it is asked of him. Likewise, his Internet presence is limited to one professional site where gallerists and collectors of his photography can view his latest images, prices, and listings for upcoming shows. Operating as a sort of complementary alter ego for my husband, I am an attention whore; in person, I babble to anyone within earshot who hasn’t yet told me to shut up. Online, I am a promiscuous spider-woman, with rooms set up all over the Web.

I’ve kept a blog since 2000. Prior to meeting me in the flesh, it was my blog that gave the man I would marry his first glimpse of my life. David had read hundreds of entries (about my stupid coworkers, my political viewpoints, and my drama with friends and family) in one marathon sitting. He gleaned from my words what I considered to be an unsettlingly accurate depiction of me. All that time, I’d been operating under the assumption that I’d been picking and choosing among my thoughts and actions to depict the person I wanted people to think I was, not the person I actually was. I learned, however, that blogs can be as transparent as body language, as David had me pegged before we ordered our second drink at Nunu’s.

Save for the occasional comment, most blog readers remain silent voyeurs. The blogger shares her opinions with everyone and yet no one. Blogging was great for me when I was in an office. In an office, you can’t select which people you run into in the hallways. After bitching online about someone I found repugnant, I found it easier to force a smile when I would inevitably encounter that person at the water cooler.

Despite the unwelcome interactions, I began to miss the whole “water cooler” experience when I transitioned to working from home. After a few months of luxuriating in the uninterrupted tranquility of my home office, I began to crave more human interaction during the day than my blog could offer. Email didn’t arrive frequently enough, and instant messaging was too intrusive and time-consuming. I wanted a happy medium, a ready group of people with whom to interact, but only in those moments I felt like interacting — a virtual water cooler at which someone interesting was always guaranteed to be standing.

When my friend Jessica asked me what “Twitter” was, I was at a loss for words. What was it? Not just a website, but more like virtual urbanity, a busy street corner at which you can overhear everyone’s thoughts. An Internet Times Square, with billboards, links, people from all walks of life; news and entertainment on one side, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and banality on the other. Some refer to it as “micro-blogging” because each update can be no longer than 140 characters, a few sentences. But unlike my blog, a website on which only I post, Twitter is a place where anyone and everyone publishes their notions; I can choose to “follow” whom I want — meaning, when I go to my homepage, I see all the micro-blog updates from only those people to whom I have chosen to “listen.”

Local and national foodies, clubbers, writers, local news stations, and fetish-mongers are among the 155 people I follow and who follow me. At any given time, whether I’m sitting at my desk or standing under a full moon among hundreds of roses, I can jump into an endless conversation by commenting on a post or by adding my own.

When I pick up my phone to tap out a message to my fellow tweeters, David likes to joke, “Be sure to tell them when you go pee.” It’s his way of emphasizing how pointless he finds the habit of reporting on the banal minutiae of one’s every thought and action. “You know, NPR is on here,” I might say, as David respects all things NPR. “It was because of Twitter that I had up-to-the-minute information on where the fires were spreading last year. Don’t knock it.”

To which David will more than likely lean over my shoulder, point to a random post he sees on the screen, and say something such as, “And why do you need to know that ‘Randomguru’ is not happy with his juicer because it’s a ‘cheap one and takes a long time to clean’?”

“I don’t,” I’ll say. Then, arranging my face into a mask of sarcastic supplication, I’ll add, “But aside from food and sleep, beh beh, no one really needs anything.”

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