This isn’t strictly about bicycling, so these words will live here and not at the other place. But it is about Strava, which is an app that, for some impenetrable to me reason, people think has something to do with bicycling, and my objections to it. This entire line of inquiry came about while at a bar, so the usual caveats apply. I am not currently at a bar and, accordingly, those usual caveats apply.
Strava is a map and it’s a clock and both of these technologies have proven greatly useful to mankind and have themselves as a technologies been continuously refined so that at the present moment of our civilization, we have better and more accurate ones of both than we have thus ever had. This isn’t a luddite argument. I think technology, and ever bettering technology, is pretty neat. While maps and clocks are useful tools, but they impose an oppressive, entirely contrived, reality that crowds out other ways of thinking. Two-dimensional representations of geographical space are nice; but they don’t tell you anything about those places. Counted minutes don’t tell you how those minutes felt and what the air smelled like or if you were, at the time 23:47 into your ride, thinking about ice cream and the names of the 31 flavors of Baskin Robbins ice creams, though you couldn’t find your way past chocolate, vanilla and probably pistachio. The data collected by Strava doesn’t represent reality; Strava imposes one. And this one, a map and clock, is a far less interesting reality than the one the actual experience might have suggested.
My other objection to Strava is this: it begs comparisons between you and others and you and your past or future self. The latter is more insidious than the former, which is just a ludicrous idea. I object to the idea of self-improvement. I especially object to the idea of self-improvement as dictated to you by an imposed reality that measures things that are as ultimately pointless as the kind of ice cream flavors you couldn’t remember, but given a degree of objective importance through the veneer of numbers. You may gain seconds, but what did you miss? Each ride is sui generis and to pretend otherwise is a great disservice to yourself.
In conclusion, Strava is stupid. It reduces bicycling rather than enhances it.
So, that’s my anti-data piece. And, it’s kind of funny that I’m so opposed to collecting data since (1) in my previous life as a medievalist, I was quite a fan of the Annales school and their counting of everything across the longue duree in an attempt to try to know anything about the past and (2) find the collection of data and facts and figures to be wildly useful in making decisions in my current guise of paid professional. Perhaps I’m just trying to draw a bold line between these things and the interior life that is clumsily and flippantly projected outward in my silly bicycle blogging and have found a way to adopt a somewhat polemical, but completely opposing, viewpoint as a means of isolating (protecting?) one side of self from another. Or maybe I just don’t find the experience of bicycling/living compatible with the experience of keeping track of these things in this kind of way. If I told you that I had a notebook that recorded what time I brushed my teeth every day, how much toothpaste I used, how long I brushed, whether I flossed and how my tooth brushing compares year-on-year with my previous brushing and how my tooth brushing frequency and duration compares with the other 30 year old males who go to the same dentist, you might infer that I am a crazy person. But make it exercise (and/or bike riding) and all of the sudden, it’s no longer the compunction of a borderline obsessive personality- it’s a totally reasonable thing. Why is that? I mean, it must be meaningful to the many, many people who do it (I’m perfectly able to accept that I’m in the minority here). Is it about accomplishment? Maybe, not so much improvement, but just a record that something was done and its doneness is to be moored in a particular time and place. Is it the active person’s obelisk? Is it a message to future historians or alien archaeologists, that a life was lived and it contained some exercise? I’m far too prone to thinking that most things people do in the present are secret, maybe subconscious, messages to future historians. People don’t actually do this, at least, not as a primary concern.
Speaking of doneness, I believe that I have fulfilled the necessary level of cloying self-indulgence required of any blog post. An egg timer just dinged. Sorry for making this about bikes, at least tangentially. I’ll do better the next time.