We can collect and process data in ways we never could before. In the grand scheme of life on this planet, it wasn't that long ago that the abacus was a really big deal. Now, the computer currently resting on my groin is more powerful than the one that sent Apollo 11 to the Moon. (At least I'm assuming that's the case. At the very least my computer is vastly more capable of accessing porn.)
For the most part, this whole data processing thing is good. Data analysis helps us conserve, learn, and heal. A doctor can count your blood cells now, whereas a couple centuries ago he would have just cut you open and bled you.
Sometimes though all this data processing isn't so good. Consider cycling. In the last few years we've come up with innumerable ways to quantify just how much we suck at riding bikes. Here's one example, which I came across via the Twitter:
Pedaling: what could be simpler? It's turning your feet around in circles. Yet, incredibly, it's enough to power this incredibly efficient machine for miles and miles. You'd think this would be enough for people, but for some reason they need to know which leg is better at it:
And where in the circle it's better:
And the various mathematical equations involved:
Here's an equation: your bike plus all this expensive crap equals you still suck.
"But it's a tool!," cry the Freds. "Analyzing this data will make me a better cyclist! And look, there are graphs!"
Yeah, it's a tool and so are you. Sure, there are graphs. This one is very informative. See that drop in pedaling efficiency? It coincides with that moment I eased up in order to reach into my bib shorts and shift my balls. Therefore, if I want to be the best Cat 3 I can be, I'd better work on more efficient ball-shifting--or else buy a $500 pair of shorts with a KuKu Penthouse.
Hey, look, I'm not a communalist. This is America, baby! Canada's seal blood sluice! We're free to buy what we want when we want, and to shoot anybody who tries to take it from us. At the same time, though, it's hard not to find this preponderance of costly power measuring equipment slightly offensive. I mean, come on, a "pedal monitoring system?" Do you really need to spend $2,500 for something that tells you whether or not you're pedaling? They use less shit in the hospital when you're giving birth to tell you if your baby's still alive. It's like "the machine that goes 'Bing!,'" only for Freds.
Oddly though, I watched the same video in Japanese, and it didn't bother me at all:
Anyway, I watched this video yesterday evening, and so I was already thinking about cycling and data obsession, and wouldn't you know I awoke this morning to find Jason Gay had written a column about amateur athletes and their compulsion to chronicle their "achievements:"
I enjoyed this column, but he and I are clearly constructed with a different crabon fiber lay-up:
But I am OK with this. Let's be clear about what we're saying when we ask people to curb their enthusiasm for their athletic achievements. We are saying that it bothers us. But what about it is irritating? Public displays of enthusiasm are everywhere. There is a guy in my neighborhood who wears a Star Wars hat all the time. This does not trouble me. I do not ask him to stop wearing the Star Wars hat (though I wonder if he has other hats.) Same goes for pets: I don't see the "I Love My Corgi" sticker on the back of a car and think, Wow, the Corgi people are really getting to be annoying. Whatever happened to someone just owning a Corgi and shutting up about it? I just think that someone in that car loves Corgis. And that the interior of that car probably smells like Corgis.
See, this is where he's far more vertically compliant than I am. Jason Gay sees a bumper sticker and finds it charming and whimsical. Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging him. In fact, I wish I could get a prescription for whatever he's on, because when I see a bumper sticker I get angry. Really angry. I don't want to know what other people are thinking because what they're thinking is probably stupid. When I see a Corgi bumper sticker, not only do I want the driver to shut up about the goddamn Corgi, but I also judge them harshly for taking a dog that has been specially bred over generations to work on Welsh farms and subjecting them to a mundane life in a crappy suburban home so everyone who comes over can secretly giggle at those ridiculous stubby legs until the thing slowly develops cataracts and those pathetic cloudy dog eyes and ultimately gets put to sleep. Meanwhile, people are abandoning pit bulls in the park by tying them to trees, and they're incinerated by the thousands because nobody wants to adopt them, but good for you for buying a Corgi.
And it doesn't stop there. I don't think I've ever seen a bumper sticker that didn't make me angry. When I see a religious bumper sticker I think, "Screw you, your make-believe god, and the combination tax shelter/child molestation factory you've built around it." When I see a bumper sticker about some kid who's an honor student I think about how that kid probably sucks at other things. When I see an environmental bumper sticker on a Subaru I think, "Fuck you, you're driving a car around Park Slope! You're basically waving a 'Safe Sex' banner while fucking Mother Nature bareback!"
Really, the only thing worse than bumper stickers are vanity plates, and the most idiotic vanity plates of all are the ones that simply state the make or model of the car, like when you see a Honda and the license plate says "HONDA." How stupid do you have to be to pay the state extra to reinforce the advertising your car's manufacturer has already plastered all over the thing? Then you roll up next to the car and it's blasting some insipid "music" consisting of little more than someone reciting the brand names of the products he likes to buy, and you realize most people are little more than vapid and unwitting pixels in the flashing banner ad that has become our culture.
I mean, obviously that doesn't stop me from blogging about my rides and going on (and on, and on, and onandonandon) about my own stupid opinions, but if I wasn't a total fucking hypocrite then I wouldn't be human, now would I? Really, the point here is that it's all about me, and this new age of self-promotion isn't good for my already addled mental state. So forgive me if I don't want to hear about your workout, OK?
So between the "pedal monitoring system" and the WSJ column I'd already churned myself into butter, and then a reader forwards me this app which endeavors to turn Strava into even more of an auto-fellating experience:
Cliiiimb: A Real-Time Strava Experience from 4iiii Innovations on Vimeo.
"If it's not on the leader board, it didn't happen," the video begins.
Just as I suspected: my entire life is a mirage.
Do you ever use your phone to take a picture or a movie and stop to think that as we digitize everything around us that maybe we're already living in an entirely digitized universe we've already created? And as you think about that, do you also think that maybe that digitized universe was digitized by people in a different universe, who themselves have been digitized, and so on and so forth to infinity, and then you just fall down twitching and foaming at the mouth?
Because I do.
Well, I don't actually fall down twitching and foaming at the mouth, but I do need to sit down for a minute or two with a slice of pizza.
Anyway, all of this crap only confirms my deepest quantum-physical fears, because this thing allows you to have a "phantom ghost rider" or something and compete against the you that exists in some other digital dimension:
"Go, go, go," it tells you in a nonplussed robotic voice as you cross the imaginary line in your imaginary race against an imaginary person how lonely and alienated we have become technology is turning us inward to oblivion oh my god kill me now:
Wait, I didn't say that last part out loud, did I?
I hope not.
Then it tells you your ride's over, just in case you're too stupid to figure out that you're home.
As it happens, the "Cliiimb" hardware is relatively cheap as these things go, but in terms of the cost to your dignity is putting a bunch of plastic sensors on yourself just to go for a ride really "cheap?"
I mean, look at all this crap! Which one goes up your ass?
Anyway, next come a bunch of hard-hitting Fred interviews in the Bay Area:
"It's a much more interactive way of riding, it kinda takes the guessing out of...going out for a 'Strava Ride' if you will..."
Seriously, a 'Strava Ride' is a thing? That's like having a 'Masturbation Date.' Wanking is one thing, but it's quite another when you calendar your wank in your iPhone, send yourself flowers that afternoon, and then take yourself out for a $100 dinner before rubbing one out on your silk sheets.
And look at the glasses!
I dunno, all this seems like a highly concerted attempt to remove contemplation from cycling. There's nothing like a ride to help you reflect and work through your problems, but the fact is that as you do this you don't always like what you find. I suppose that's why people would prefer to chase a dot in their glasses to actually thinking about stuff as they grind their way up that climb. I'm not that way, though. Some days you're dancing up that climb because things are going your way, and other days you're trudging up it because you're dragging a metaphorical trailer full of hardship, and I'm of the belief that you should embrace all of it.. That's why I'm coming out with my own training app, which will include a $1,500 "head unit" (or optional $2,000 interactive glasses) that will stream the following information as you ride:
--Your bank account balances;
--Recent professional and personal successes and failures;
--What your spouse or life partner and other family members are currently doing and how much emotional currency you're spending by fucking off for a ride while they do it;
--How much money you've spent to date on cycling equipment;
--Mike Sinyard's real-time net worth;
--Using statistics, blood samples, and medical records, the time remaining until you'll most likely be dead.
That ought to help put that ride in perspective.
But not only is this data stuff an attempt to dodge dealing with life; it's also a full-fledged conspiracy. See, using technology, they'll soon take cycling completely indoors, freeing up our country's road for all those self-driving cars:
The king is dead, long live the KOM.