2/12/12, No. 21
A modest proposal for Donna Deegan: Please pass this letter along to Donna Deegan,
I am writing to voice my frustration with regard to last Sunday’s “26.2 for Donna” race. Thousands of people ran the 26.2- or the 13.1-mile routes, and that is too many people, and too many to have running simultaneously. However, I have a modest proposal, my one hundred and third since I started making them. Next year, please reconfigure the race after the model of asynchronous distance learning (ADL) now being implemented at the University of Norflaland here in town. This model allows students to participate in a course during a semester at times and on days when it is convenient for them. Its equivalent, asynchronous distance racing (ADR), allows participants to run a race at a time and on a day when it is convenient for them. I wish to inform you why ADR represents a great improvement over the traditional and obsolete model of racing you use for “26.2 for Donna.”
Consider how crass it is to run in a massive human stampede:
How does ADR make a foot race less crass? To answer this question, it is necessary to ask another one. What is at stake when a runner travels on foot from Point A to Point B? The runner wishes to cover this ground in less time than his or her competitors. Since it is the time that matters, nothing is added by having everyone try to accomplish faster times by running in a mob. Major streets in Jacksonville must be blocked for hours. Jacksonvillian drivers are inconvenienced. And the people living in the affected areas become trapped in their neighborhoods.
Currently available technology makes the traditional model outmoded. Doug Alred, owner of the 1st Place Sports chain, employs this technology at the Gate River Run and the other local races he conducts. The chip a runner ties to his or her shoelaces makes it possible to record the overall race time for that person: the runner crosses over a digital sensor at the starting line, then passes over a similar one at the finish, and the result is tallied electronically. Whether one runs alone or in a herd makes no difference. And with the paper IDs the runners wear now programmed with GPS, a runner cannot cheat. One cannot take a short cut. Like God in heaven, the satellite will know. So, all that will matter will be the time it takes a person to complete the required distance while staying on the course and doing it in a single, uninterrupted episode.
Running a race in real time—simultaneously with others—is SO 20th-century! It is the equivalent of analog recording.
By contrast, ADR is digital. One can read about the difference by going to this extension of my brain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_analog_and_digital_recording
Given the new technology, would it not be better to give runners a choice of a time and a day suiting their individual scheduling needs? Having everyone run the race on a single designated day, starting at a certain specified time, does not offer people choice. So, why not give everyone a two-week window, as in early voting, in which to select a three-hour segment and make their best attempt? An individual participant could run it from midnight to 3 am on a Thursday if he or she wanted to. Of course, everyone would have to be given maps of the 26.2- or 13.1-mile courses, and a flashlight. Carrying their own water, everyone would take the map, go to the start, put on their IPod, cross the sensor (which would be left permanently in place on the pavement), run the 13.1- or 26.2-mile course, and cross the finish so that the sensor at that end records the overall time. If people chose to, they even could make multiple attempts over the two-week period, and then would have only their best time count. For example, on Tuesday of the first week a runner may run the distance in 3 hours, 25 minutes. On Tuesday the following week, he or she may run it in 3 hours, 15 minutes. The second time would count. Multiple attempts within the two weeks may require additional fees, thereby raising more money for breast-cancer research.
Moreover, ADR benefits the community in which the race is held.Just as early voting mitigates the crush on election day, so giving runners the choice of when to race will reduce congestion. Because no more than twenty or so would ever be out on the courses at a given time, runners would not clog the roads.
Defenders of the traditional model assert I am completely missing the point, that these races give people who ordinarily train on their own a chance to gather and revel in the camaraderie of a collective effort, and that racing with, or against, other people who are physically present IS the activity’s raison d’être. Obviously, the people making this argument have never heard another French expression, “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”
ADR is not unprecedented:
ADR is in line with the direction technology is taking us: Events now can be arranged to occur when it is convenient—in most instances, later. TiVo allows programs to be viewed later. People download podcasts to listen to later. Stuxnet was Asynchronous Distance Warfare, programed for the worm to work later. Later, dude!
Asynchronicity not only orchestrates delay, but it also facilitates personal autonomy. DJs become obsolete: people now can go to “silent discos” and “silent house parties,” where everyone dons IPods and dances to their own private list of musical selections.
No one can hear you sing
The shuffling of dancing feet
In Asynchronous Distance Learning (ADL) at the University of Norflaland, students log on to group discussions at 2 am, respond to an entry posted six hours earlier, then return the next day to read the interlocutor’s reply.
Computer dating and social networking function on a similar principle:
These flowers were posted five days ago, but they are still fresh!
Relationships can be ordered asynchronisically. “I love you” becomes “xoxo,” read later.
More and more we interact with the outside world and other people on our own terms, when it is convenient, with no one to bother, or stop, us.
“I just gambled away my family’s savings.”
A great deal of joy is brought to us by these devises:
“I found a gambling site for kids!”
The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let It Be were recorded asynchronously. In the band’s last years, when John, George, Paul and Ringo couldn’t stand each other, they went in to the recording studio separately, at hours they weren’t likely to run into each other. There they recorded individual parts while listening through a headset to the tracks the others already had laid down.
Despite George Martin’s and Phil Spector’s best efforts mixing the tracks, a few curmudgeon touchy-feely critics complained these last two albums sounded “hollow”—less warm and human—than the preceding ones.
This method of recording music has not always led to a felicitous conclusion.
However, with music streaming from earbuds, unpleasant realities can be dealt with later
With these precedents, I see no reason why we all have to run the race at the same time. In 2012, it no longer makes sense. We here in Rio on the River look to the future. It is so twentieth century, so analog, to have to do something at a set time and in conjunction with a bunch of other people. So, my one-hundred-and-third modest proposal requests that you to offer us choice, the choice to do the race when we want, in the way we want to do it, so that our individual needs can be satisfied.