Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 8: Progress

Martin Heidegger observed in his essay 'The Question Concerning Technology' that "whether we passionately affirm or deny it" we "remain unfree and chained to technology." The basic premise of this argument was that people infrequently question the technology which they use, and critically evaluate the moral and ethical implications of that technologies which they use on a day to day basis even less frequently. As a result, people become slaves to their technology (or as Kurt Vonnegut would say "tools of their tools"). The essay has aged well. In our day it is unlikely that many people know enough about the technology they use each day to repair it in the event of a malfunction, and even fewer know how to use the pieces of complex machinery they own for more than a few essential functions. For those of you who think that I am unfair in this assessment, I invite you to tell me how your television, microwave oven, refrigerator, and computer function, and what you would do in the event of a malfunction. If you are anything like me, you would probably go looking for technical support which -- more often than not -- is completely useless and more than a little bit frustrating.

I bring this up because during my run to the Acme (a 1.4 mile roundtrip) I began to wonder about my running shoes. What made them work? How were they made? Why were they only good for 350-500 miles depending on the surface they were most frequently used on? I was sad to realize that I could not answer even the most basic question about how the laces were made or how the shoes were put together beyond a simple "people in a developing country would probably know the answer." This answer, of course, amounts to an abandonment of the initial question since it is very unlikely that I will ever visit a manufacturing plant in a developing country. Fortunately, however, there is another option: Using the internet (another piece of technology which I understand on a basic level but whose architecture and finer points I must admit more illiteracy than I would care to) to find an answer.

As it turns out, the reason why my shoes are cushioned and stable is that they use ethylene vinyl acetate -- a sort of foam which, although not harmful to your health, is found in cigarettes. According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, the type of shoe I bought is one which is designed for stability. I was unnecessarily happy about this little bit of information since it indicated that the salesperson at Bryn Mawr Running Co. was not lying to me when he sold me the shoe. While I still cannot claim knowledge of how my shoe was made (or of how ethylene vinyl acetate is manufactured), I can say that I know more today than I did yesterday about the process of shoe-making.

Heidegger's point, it seems, is one we would do well to take into consideration. Technology is not always benign -- and not understanding the implications of our use of technology can harm us. I hate to belabor such a basic point, but it is one which I believe we would all do well to remember.

As for the actual running, today was the first time in a long time that I was able to run more than a mile without being forced to stop. I do not regret my time at Villanova -- or my affinity for Birkenstock sandals -- but it is undeniable that, during my time there, I lost much of the cardiovascular fitness that I had worked so hard to gain during my time in high school. Too much thinking and not enough running I suppose.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 1: Of Purchased Shoes and a Bruised Ego

Jane Austin began Pride and Prejudice with the observation that "it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Likewise, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a taken man in possession of only Birkenstocks and Ferragamos must be in want of running shoes. Yesterday, and with this truth in mind, I set off to acquire a pair. After a visit to Bryn Mawr Running Company and an hour of my time I left in possession of a pair of Brooks Adrenaline 10th Edition sneakers, and without a somewhat substantial chunk of change in my wallet. But really, what was I going to use that money for anyway? More books?

Today, the stage was set for my first planned run in years (because sprinting across campus in a pair of sandals to catch the shuttle may count as many things, but planned is likely not among them.) I was excited. I was really excited. I was suddenly winded less than half a mile from my starting point! I was struggling to make it to the CVS. I was slowing down. I was in need of a breather. I was at the CVS. Needless to say, my pride was ever so slightly wounded by this shameful display of physical ineptitude.

When I got home these were my immediate reflections

June 22: Ran to the CVS in Rosemont. Had to stop after that because I was out of shape. I am really out of shape. Temperature was 90 degrees, humidity was somewhere between 95 and 100 percent, I could see the haze outside and a thunderstorm began 15 minutes after I got home.

Now I remember why people run in the morning and in the evening instead of at other times during the day. My reasons for hating the 3PM to 515PM soccer practices I suffered through in high school also came back with a vengeance. Nothing takes the stamina out of you faster than humidity on a hot day. Needless to say I will not be making that mistake again. From now on, all of my running is going to happen in the morning or evening or both. Probably not both.