Three days ago, after a long hiatus, I finally went running again. It was an invigorating feeling to be back out in the fresh streets of Luzern, Maihof, Bramberg, St. Karli, the city, to feel my legs pistoning away beneath, carrying me forward.
This time was different from others though. Before setting out I had at long last logged into Nike+ to set myself a work-out schedule. The selection of the training schedule was surprisingly unspecific: no weight, no age, no pulse-rate. Instead just the kms you put in per week, how long you’ve been running and what your goal is. The goal is the goal. What you can do however, which is smart, is to set yourself goals and see how far along you are in achieving them. Apart from that you can do a specific practice program (5, 10, 21, 42k) and work towards it in a 12-week session. The “coach” then tells you exactly how many ks to run on which day and how to run them.
It is so convenient it has to pass as laziness but it is also, evidently, excellent. After all, as a runner, one is hard put to claim that one does not want to improve, especially if the groundwork can be laid out so easily. It’s a bit deceptive too. Once you are out on the road, the glitzy graphics and the spooky avatar Nike!+ avatar will not help you run hard, run harder, push yourself to the limit. There’s a pleasant female voice in my ear, suddenly interrupting Drake’s or Papoose’s or Young Jerz’s rhymes, to inform me about the passage of kilometers but willpower, alas, cannot be downloaded. Young runner you are on your own. Hard up the hill, easy coming down, your knees silently cursing you. Clarification: to run is to be young.
Then also additionally, the application has quite some gall: you hook up your iPod and if you’ve (as naively as myself) have allowed a facebook connection, your run will automatically be posted as a status update. Status updates which in social network speak are also called “sharing”, which makes it sound like a very socially responsible, altruistic practice whereas often, I’m convinced, it’s ye ol’ narcissim having found a new outlet.
On the train to Rapperswil or St. Gallen or Romanshorn, depending on where you are commuting to [let us not use lightly the expression “Final destination”]. After Immensee, in the shadow of the Rigi, along the shoreline of Lake Zug it begins raining. Lake Zug an inconsolable shard of topaz. Raining extremely hard.
The train does not seem to slow down for this the way oneself would, outside as a hopeless pedestrian one would be slowed by the attack of wind and rain. Curse the absence of an umbrella or rain coat and even equipped with those, would still feel futile fighting the elements.
The rain makes a pleasant, particular sound against the train’s windowpanes like experimental music on a drum of glass. How long has it been raining? Three weeks more or less continuously, since that Sunday when I injured my thigh. Injury and maladies divide time into recognizable episodes. At any rate, it has been raining hours, days, weeks until it was difficult to tell apart the exact difference between time and rain.
Thus it is hard not to imagine that the weather, in this country, bears us an unexplained grudge. Or perhaps it is simple cosmic karma, the tears of those suffering&dying for our sins elsewhere carried across the continents, multiplied by millions, at last raining down upon us and we don’t even know that that is what it is.
And as one passes through Arth-Goldau and it has been pouring for so long, it is difficult not to think of catastrophic mudslides, big boulders the size of houses bounding down the mountainside to smash into houses, animals in the game reserve, people, the KJPD Schwyz, things like that. A diarrhea like mix of mud and gravel and rocks and trees sliding down the not-very-steep slope of the Horse Mountain’s back to kill once again the people of these stagnant, little villages. Wipe them off of the face of history. For no good reason whatsoever, other than achieving the obscure ends of geology.
Sitting down today in my train car’s cubicle, I can suddenly think of a personal religion. A new faith for which I only have to proselytize myself: not to ever read 20minuten or Blick am Abend again, especially, not to touch these unholy objects. Artifacts of the infidel. I already know that I will not be a disciple of this new religion for all too long but the effort is a worthy one.
And what is this religion based on? A confused notion of taboos. The paperlet stands for those of the Clan “who massacre the word”. Everyday they bundle their butcheries and try to tempt the true believers. Most fall from grace while others, by iron exertion of their will, manage to retain their faith in a world of meaning. These are the children of the Clan of “meaning and thought” who have been persecuted for a long time and wonder if there is yet a promised land for the long-suffering word.
A few of their number believe there is, some claiming it is the numinous blogosphere, others social networking in general. In any case, they are weary of the Clan “who massacre the word”. Not only do they invade all territories with their daily raids but they have strange, powerful deities on their side, such as the NYT, Ringier and Cable News Network. These are dire times indeed for the Clan of “meaning and thought”
The other day I read an article in the times, the NYT magazine and contrary to my silly pre-conceptions that pieces in the NYT have become constitutionally unable to be interesting, the article was a blast, more than that, perhaps one of the best articles I’ve read in the past one or two years. Its name? The quantified self or Tracking the self, something along those lines.
What made it so delicious was not just the horrifying implications of the topic, namely an administrative/bureaucratic tracking of one’s everyday minutiae, not just the totally thorough in-depth research, quoting many a central expert on the matter but also the wealth of “ethnographic” and self-experiential detail. The guy has done his homework on the topic so conscientiously that I could not help but be fascinated, recounting the personal anecdotes, anxieties, etc of geeks & nerdomats who have been doing self-tracking since before it became a fashionable thing and could be done more or less “easily” with little tracking devices, guys keeping track of thirty, forty, fifty parameters of their daily lives without going apeshit.
Perhaps more captivating, reading the article, was the fact that the writer managed to bypass the “prejudice against excessive quantification” that my studies in Anthropology instilled in me. After almost every paragraph I was tempted to shortcut my reading, expecting a full-blown seconding of quantifying the least little aspect of one’s quotidian existence but instead he masterfully mapped out the whole ambivalence of the issue. Ambivalence, not alibi-concessions, not ardent pro mixed with sham con but real existential doubts about whether to subject one’s life to the tracking of numbers: heart-rate, sleep duration, awakenings, kilometers walked a day, calories burnt, books read, movies viewed (or departed early), mood swings, hours worked, hell, minutes worked, totalled daily duration of naps, yes, the entire gamut. With the help of the fitbit tracking device, nike+ and what-have-you. Then carefully considered the aspects of this quantitative practice that could make it insufferable, for example relating one of the female pioneer’s story whose obsession with the most fractional changes of body-weight became such a source of bouts of bad conscience and self-loathing that she stopped tracking her Self altogether. Fascinating stuff this article.
However, I did imagine that it would not in any way affect my disinterest in taking up such activities myself. Nike+ somehow improving my running seemed quite enough (two days ago). However, I clicked onto the hyperlink for fitbit: the pie-chart on sleep-, activity- and sedentary-phases sold me. And the gloomily gripping part about this is that I found myself unable to identify with any of the rationales for doing it in the text: living more healthy, getting into better athletic shape, honing one’s time-management skills, practicing saner sleeping patterns, turning down or up one’s caloric input, none of these. Just the sheer curiosity of seeing my progression through a day suddenly mapped out visually, as a pie-chart or, much better, a peaking and troughing fever-line across the 24hours axis. Yes, I am interested in my day’s data slime-trail, the digital effluvia of my existence. It’s like writing minus the effort [of thinking&typing], it doesn’t say anything but it signals, it signifies at an elementary, gastropodic level that we logged out of once we evolved the beginnings of a brain.
Repressed at some level, is probably still, even if my contra-conventional/anarchic consciousness will not let me admit it, the dream of control. That once I have studied the numbers of my living long enough I will be able to transform myself into a better human being, a more quantitatively viable life form. The best I can do, in this case, is to think of it as a real-life, psychoanalytic experiment, the first step of which is to procure the accursed fitbit tracker. Well then, let me get on it and start setting up the experimental order.
The oil is still, after three weeks, leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, to the unholy, calamitous tune of 800’000 gallons a day. And there’s not jackshit anybody can do about it other than fabricating excuses, the proclamation of false promises, empirically shaky scenarios of ecological catastrophe/coping and not to forget, shameless political point-scoring. Politicos reaction to this situation is like an ethical oil-spill: it severely compromises, clogs up people’s ability to believe in the good of humankind. Their minds become coated with a rainbowy film of indifference.