Monday, April 22, 2019

The Analogue Experience Is Dead

Connected, and thus, disconnected from what makes things special.
I once worked with Ergon persona extraordinaire, Jeff Kerkove, and he had a certain saying that has stuck with me over the years. He used to say "Cell phones are the Devil". Well, actually he also said "Road cycling is the Devil". So, take it for what it is worth. Anyway, the point here is that cell phones have disrupted the human experience of "Life" and how it was supposed to be lived.

And to be fair, I cannot say it is cell phones, but technology, is really what it is. Everyone agrees it has fundamentally changed the way we live, how we experience things, and how we relate to each other. Broad topic there and I don't pretend to have any answers. But I did want to narrow the focus down to cycling and gravel events in particular. (And for some context this is an excellent article which speaks to what I am saying about this.)

When I helped get Trans Iowa started in late 2004, our first event in 2005 was pretty much all analogue. Sure, we had cell phones, but coverage in terms of cell service in 2005 was a joke. There were plenty of areas in Iowa that had no coverage at all. So, unless you were in an urban area, along a State, US, or Interstate highway, you weren't getting cell coverage. That was most of the first few Trans Iowa courses.

Cell phones were primitive, compared to today's computers we carry around. I mean, all you could do with a cell phone in 2005 was call someone. The internet? Ha! GPS? Whatever. Mapping? Nonexistent. All this had little to no effect upon the experience of the riders. But it changed and it changed in a big hurry. By 2009 it was apparent that riders were able to have talks with support people in homes and get encouragement, coaching, and information not available a mere four years previous. Check out my quote from the T.I.v5 race report where I compare what racer Charlie Farrow did with zero cell phone connection to what others had done with it. -

"This may sound harsh, but this is my gut feeling. If you had this cell phone "life-line" going on during T.I.V5, then you did the route with outside support. The people that accepted that support will have to live with that thought. Folks like Charlie Farrow will not. You decide which way is "right"."

And I still feel this way. But actually calling someone isn't the only way to get support. In fact, now it is even more subtle. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have taken over from voice communications. These "social" media platforms have now become the communication lifelines that racers and ultra-distance gravel riders have employed to be their psychological edge, or their means of assuaging their decision to not finish in some cases. It's a weird, complicated web which has a lot of strands to it. That said, without that technology/social media factor, things would be a lot different, as far as experience goes for the riders, and in my mind, all for the better.
Now days support people actually track their riders via GPS Image by Jon Duke T.I.v13
One other recent development in technology has allowed riders to be tracked via GPS. This can be followed by support people and they can, in turn, show up anywhere on course to..... Well, you get the idea. 

Just the mere fact that this is a feature of modern GPS based bicycle computers and cell phones is another mental support to riders. You know someone knows where you are all the time that could bring you a coat, take unwanted gear, give you food, or just to "be there". It's all happened out there on courses at events..... But even if it hadn't, just knowing it could is an edge. It didn't used to be that way. Decisions were solely upon the rider, and if you were wrong...... Well, no one was going to bail you out, and even if they could, it would be a long time before they got there. That made decision making......well, critical. More so than it is the way things are now.

It's interesting. The first run-in I had with GPS tracked riders was at T.I.v13. A certain support person was tracking the progress of his rider. Now to be fair, he wasn't communicating with him, just tracking him, but I could see the possibilities right away. We ran into this again at the C.O.G. 100 this past month. People were tracking their riders and expecting me to calculate finishing times on the spot, off the top of my head, for their rider. They may have been thinking to themselves, "I could just go out there and find them sooner than this doofus can do math in his head." Probably true.

In my opinion, all this detracts from the experience. It dilutes the way Life was meant to be lived, without guarantees of success, of happiness, or even of living. (See above linked article) And to be fair, technology is not a guarantee of any of that, but that's not how it is viewed. Not if we are being honest with ourselves. But like I say, that's a much bigger discussion. I do know it screws with the intentions for a "self-supported" gravel event, and anymore, it is a farce to say any event is "self-supported". Not as long as each rider is carrying one of those super computer devices in their jersey, bag, or on their bike. 

But maybe I'm just a retro-grouch and I just don't get it. Fair enough. But if I had my druthers, I would put on an event where everyone locked their cell phones in a locker and then did the event. Of course, that raises some concerns, but think of how that changes the vibe. Your thought processes are going to be different. Maybe.

Maybe not.........


bostonbybike said...

It's inevitable and it will always happen as long as you call your event a race. You would have to give up timing riders and call it a group ride. Or you could just confiscate cell phones and GPS computers at the start line ;)

baric said...

Amen to locking up the cell phones. I like that some restaurants do this also.

Doug M. said...

@bostonbybike Amen to group rides and cooperation over competition. I'm fine going into the backcountry sans phone/SPOT tracker with a few other capable outdoors people that I know will help me out of a jam or initiate a rescue. Same deal on a ride.

youcancallmeAl said...

It doesn't have to be dead. It's the rider's choice. Each phone has an on/off switch. Cheaters will always know their victory is hollow.

teamdarb said...

Anyone recall when before bicycle computers had time as standard feature? Go back an take a look at the number of watches were present in early photos. Especially note how many were digital versus analog.

Shane said...

This also may sound harsh but you have to eat your own dog food:

TI Rule #13: All racers must use and carry with them a flashing red taillight and front light, and a back-up light source, i.e. headlamp. A cell phone is also a good/great idea.

Guitar Ted said...

@Shane- Touche' But......those rules were written (by Jeff Kerkove)and posted 11/29/04.

Cell phones were very basic communication devices, as I stated, in '04. Plus, as I also state, short of confiscating phones from riders and implementing some other form of rider extraction in case of DNF- etc, it was best for us to encourage and to let riders use cell phones. It was the better of several options.

We had the notion that honor was something held dear by riders that took part in Trans Iowa. That didn't always prove to be the case. But for the most part, it held true. What the outcome of how that specific honor amongst riders is being eroded going forward, as younger riders come in who had never lived without a digital tether, is yet to be seen.

Shane said...

Thanks for your response and I understand where you are coming from, just have a different perspective. I think you said it well when mentioning there are no other better options for extraction than using a cell phone. In addition to that, I just couldn't enter such an event without a way to communicate in case of an emergency. I'm a husband and father first. So for both evacuation and safety, especially when riders are responsible for themselves, smart phones make sense.

Smart phones can be used to cheat, as you mentioned. There's always going to be bad apples and no real way to stop it other than social control, or basically making it socially unacceptable and monitored by the racers themselves. You can't really take phones away at the beginning of a race because someone could still be packing a hidden one. That doesn't stop the cheaters.

If race directors feel smart phones detract from an event, they certainly have a right to not allow them. It was possible that Rule 13 could have been modified based on smart phone advancements. However, I still would never attend such event. I just don't think the problem is significant enough.

CrossTrail said...

Taking the emergency canard at face value, the only use of the smart phone would be to call for help with an exact location. OK. Start the event with all phones off. Turning it on before the finish line means calling No Joy and your event is over. But I know that the potential of an emergency is not the real issue or folks would be doing just that.

Also, I reject the notion that a smart phone is a pre-requisite for responsiblity. I'm a husband and father, first, and I ride remote roads and trails, often solo, with a flip phone turned off. Many things make one responsible and self-sufficient. Merely carrying a smart phone does not.

Shane said...

CrossTrail I am responsible for me, and for me I want to have access to a smart phone. Never did I mention or imply those who don't are irresponsible. You are responsible for you, and it is your choice. No judgement here. Like I said before, if a race didn't allow phones I simply wouldn't do it. That doesn't mean I condemn others that do. All of our situations are different. I respect your choice and believe you are making a responsible decision.

I can't speak for others but having a phone is all about the safety factor for me. Maybe there is more animosity about carrying smart phones than I think. I might view these events differently. I race against myself and my own set goals. I don't worry about others. If they cheat or abuse smart phones that's on them. I still wouldn't hesitate to call somebody out on it though. Like I mentioned before, let the peer pressure of fellow racers control it.

Michael Lemberger said...

I carried a cellular phone on all five of my Trans Iowa attempts; a slider for the first two and an iPhone for the other three. I found out the hard way at my first one that a cell phone will search for service until its battery is dead. It died, in fact, 30 seconds into my call for extraction. Fortunately my support people found me.

The rest of my TI attempts found my phone stowed away in airplane mode until it was time to call it quits.

All of the above is FWIW, cuz I never finished Trans Iowa.