Let’s just consider running shoes for a second, shall we? I mean, the name itself, not just their brands or models. “Running shoes”, as opposed to shoes that we wear while running. But doesn’t it seem like we are getting closer to the reality of that literal description with each passing marketing season?
The way modern running shoes are being designed it won’t be too long before some built-in flinging device will be inserted to take the nasty little requirement of generating our own power out of the equation.
Soon we will begin to hear about the first sub-1 hour marathon before Eliud Kipchoge has a chance to fully recover from his first sub-2. And everyone will applaud but like the proliferation of home runs in Major League Baseball this year, the performances in one era will be impossible to compare against another and something fundamental will be lost.
You may remember we saw something along this line at the 2006 Boston Marathon when Spira Shoes offered a $1 million bonus to two sub-2:20 Kenyan runners if they won the race wearing Spira’s spring-embedded shoes. The two took the lead and hauled ass for the first ten miles, then were run down never to be seen again. Spira itself ceased to exist in 2016.
Think about it, spring-loaded running shoes. It’s right in line with the whole “convenience” trend that has marked the country’s progress since the Industrial Revolution.
By the middle of the 20th century, modern technology was making the kind of work that defined the human experience for thousands of years obsolete. Everything in the 1950s was about ‘time-saving’ from pop-up toasters to frozen TV dinners. And as with all such advances, things were good to a point.
At the end of the 20th century, pollsters asked what were the most important inventions of the last century. The obvious answers were cars, airplanes, televisions, and computers. But one invention easily overlooked was the automatic washing machine. So meaningful was it in terms of women’s liberation that Swedish statistician Hans Rosling suggested that it was “the greatest invention of the Industrial Age.
“Convenience” in all forms became the holy grail of post-World War II America until 70-some years later an entire workforce has been displaced by technological conveniences, even as political tricksters have found their own convenient boogeymen to blame.
And it’s not just that. Old world educational necessities like showing your work product in solving math problems have been replaced by another of the 20th century’s most important inventions, the computer.
But while simplifying our tasks, machines have robbed us of our own ability to compute for ourselves. Like how GPS has stripped us of our bird’s-eye sense of our placement on the planet. For everything gained, therefore, something is lost.
And since those utilitarian educational processes are no longer taught, they are no longer learned. And when you stretch that pie-shaped wedge out far enough, you find that teachers can no longer read the scribblings of their students because cursive writing has gone out of fashion. Thus have profs at elite Ivy League schools suggested eliminating essay exams altogether.
Yet the state of Texas has recently reassessed that issue. According to the list of updates issued under the Texas Education Code, starting this year, students will be taught to write cursive letters in second grade, and by third grade, students will be expected to be able to “write complete words, thoughts, and answers legibly in cursive writing leaving appropriate spaces between words.”
The elimination of fundamental educational skills is a sensibility that mirrors the recent IAAF decision to cut the length of Diamond League athletics meetings by simply eliminating distance races altogether. Yes, and amputation will solve a hangnail problem, too.
As anyone who has ever taken up distance running realizes, it is the process that becomes the addiction, not the racing results. So, too, in education is the development of the skill set the object of the lesson rather than the final exam grade.
Rudimentary computational skills have a utility in and of themselves, just as self-powered locomotion on foot does. It is the process that teaches the larger lessons of life. So though it may be infinitely easier to just scrap the need and depend on a convenience, what’s lost is independence of mind.
Just like we may eventually go faster in actual “running shoes”, but we’d be missing the entire object of the exercise as we did.