I hate buying what I usually quaintly refer to as sneakers or running shoes, but which may also be called athletic shoes, athletic footwear, or dozens of much newer, higher-tech names that I'm not caught up on. Some marketing geniuses came up with those names in order to try to separate you from as much of your money as possible by helping you to forget that they're really just plain old sneakers all dolled up.
If you go into a sports store to buy running shoes and you show the slightest hesitation about making a selection, a salesman will quickly detect your indecision and barrage you with a meticulous series of questions because, despite my calling them all running shoes, they aren't all solely (no pun intended) for running. And, according to the manufacturers and the store's sales staff, what you're going to be doing with them supposedly determines what type of shoes you should buy. Apparently, these are precision-crafted instruments that are finely honed to meet one, and only one, unique purpose.
Will you be running, hopping, skipping, or jumping in them? Pick one. If you'll be running, is your pace best described as loping, jogging, sprinting, scuttling, scurrying, darting, dashing, or galloping? Again, pick one. Are they for indoor use or outdoor use? Will you be doing short runs, or will you be running marathons? Do you encounter any puddles on your runs? Are there any hills on your route? Maybe you aren't buying them for running at all. If not, will you be playing basketball, racquetball, squash, baseball, football, floor hockey, lacrosse, golf, or poker in them? Or is cycling your intended activity? Or are you instead planning to perform calisthenics, yoga, aerobics, weightlifting, or gymnastics? Once again, pick one.
It takes at least an hour to answer all of the salesperson's questions, but he or she usually does a fine job of convincing me that the questions are a critical part of the process required to select the perfect pair of shoes to fulfill my particular requirement—or pairs of shoes if I intend to put them to two exceptionally different purposes, such as running both uphill and downhill. Unfortunately, despite there being what seems like a million different types of athletic footwear, manufacturers don't make shoes designed specifically for what I want them to do with them, which is leave them in my locker at the gym while I work hard at trying to think up valid excuses for not putting them on and doing my workout.
As if all of that nonsense is not enough, now, rather than just figuring out what I plan to do with the shoes before I buy them, I also need to decide which microprocessor I want in them. I have just one small request of the athletic footwear makers: If it wouldn't be too much trouble, please deliver unto me the slightest of breaks. Is this really the best use of some engineer's time that they could come up with?
What am I whining about this time? Adidas has made a shoe that contains a sensor and a microprocessor that are used to control a shock absorber. In the basketball version of this shoe, the microprocessor uses input from the sensor to determine whether, for example, you are running down the court or taking a jump shot. It then delivers the appropriate amount of shock absorption. Runners can use buttons on their shoes to adjust them for a firmer or softer run. The result is better cushioning, I assume to protect your precious joints. And, because everyone is mollified by flashing lights, the shoes contain LEDs that light up to prove that the electronics—or at least the LEDs—are working.
Oh, come on. My rule is that it isn't really a sport unless there's a decent chance of injury. What's this automated shock absorber nonsense all about? I've got an idea. If they want to develop a basketball shoe that might interest me, it should play the game on its own while I watch from the stands, eat a hotdog, and down a beer.
The athletic shoe business is ruthless. Not to be outdone by Adidas, Nike is teaming up with Apple to create a wireless shoe. Excuse me? All of my shoes are wireless. They have laces, but no wires, at least none that tether me to an electronic gadget. So what's the big deal?
The big deal is that these shoes will communicate with an iPod. The shoe will send the iPod information such as the number of calories you've burned, the pace you're running at, how long you've been running, what distance you've covered, and so on. That information will be available to you either on the iPod's display or in audio format through its earphones. Oh yeah, that last one is going to make for an exciting run. "You've now run 275 steps. You've now run 276 steps. You've now run 277 steps...."
I don't know about other people, but one piece of information that this shoe-iPod combination won't have to give me is the ambient temperature. I only go outside for a run or jog on cold days in hell, so I'll already know.
It doesn't stop there. Someone has come up with yet another great idea for integrating high technology into low-tech shoes. Gillian Swan, a student at Brunel University in the United Kingdom, has come up with a design that marries children's shoes with television sets. You probably think I'm making this up. I'm not. Check it out at the Brunel University Web site.
Swan's shoe has a sensor in the insole that measure's the child's activity during the day. This information is transmitted wirelessly to a base station attached to the family television set. The amount of physical activity the child has done determines how long he or she is allowed to watch television. When the allotted time runs out, the television automatically switches off.
I don't think Swan took this idea nearly far enough. Why not make these shoes for both adults and children? And don't stop at connecting them to just televisions. Also install electronic, remote-controlled locks on refrigerators and pantries. Don't allow either to be opened by anyone who has not yet burned off a sufficient number of calories that day.
While she's at it, why not add a radio transmitter capable of jamming the electronic cash registers at fast-food emporiums? Then you wouldn't be allowed to place an order for a double bacon cheeseburger with super-sized fries and soft drink unless you've just successfully completed a double marathon.
I see this as only a very rudimentary start. If they really want to take this smart shoe idea to the extreme, why not develop a pair of shoes that can clean up my place and do my shopping—particularly shopping for sneakers—without the need for me to be wearing them at the time? With terrific ideas like these, I can't understand why I'm not rich.
If you're as old as I am, this self-walking shoe concept will probably bring for you, as it did for me, new meaning to that classic Nancy Sinatra song, "These Boots Are Made for Walking." If you're not as old as I am, please keep that little tidbit of information to yourself. I'm in no mood to hear about your current youth.