The Smart Cyclist)
Imagine you owned a car – I know, it’s dumb: just stay with me for a second.
You have been jumping in it daily for over a year now, and yet the nice sound of the door opening and closing never ceases to amaze you; as does the sense of freedom you feel vibrating on your fingertips as the engine starts, always in the same way, reliable, as soon as you turn the key – actually, you pay a lot in gas for that. Freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you desire and just drive for how long you like to – except in cities or during peak hours, but that’s another story.
As soon as you turn the key, also another thing happens: the glass in front of you comes to life. Weather forecast on the top-left corner, congestion bulletin in the bottom-right one, speed limit flashing red in the middle, like subtitles. As you drive commuting to work – slowly: augmented reality doesn’t really make traffic any better – suggestions on the better streets to take pop up, as do warnings of road signs and alerts of possible dangers. Like on the space ships from the movies of the 2010s.
As soon as the car’s wheels completely stop turning, your favourite series starts playing again, full screen, right in front of you, with no ads – you pay for that as well, but Netflix-on-the-Go is only 15€/month more, who wouldn’t? But a few seconds later the car in front of you moves by 20cm, your front bumper senses that, and your series automatically vanishes again to show the road. You start swearing, but the traffic light bypasses your controls and tells your car it’s red: the series starts again and you lay back with a smile. But a few second later something breaks the atmosphere again: a child crossing the street! Why don’t they cross on the bridge, that’s the road for Christ’ sake!
As you finally manage to arrive at the clogged intersection where you turn right, leaving all those bloody cars to their fate, you open the throttle with relieve. But the glass turns completely red and starts flashing to notify you a cyclist is coming at full speed on the cycle lane: you have to wait for a little while yet – but it feels like ages.
ON YOUR BICYCLE
Now let’s get back to reality – and let’s acknowledge we have effectively been using augmented reality since 1817, when the first draisienne was taken out for a stroll.
When you are riding your bicycle, you are fully embedded in the environment that surrounds you. Robert Pirsig described this way better than I ever could, in his masterpiece Zen, so I will leave it to his words:
In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.
The breeze running up your sleeves, the sun and shadows alternating over your eyes, the chill that worms its way through your spine. And then your heart that starts pumping blood into your legs. You are your own engine, you can feel every meter of the road. And you love to see one of those blockheads watching Netflix on their cars swearing at you because you spend less, and yet enjoy and live life more intensely.