Greetings, SF FrontRunners!
Books. Maybe you’ve read about them on the internet. They have pages, just like websites. They can be accessed 24/7 if you have them at hand and never need to be powered up or down. Some favorite books came to mind while I was visiting New York and jogging through Central Park this past week.
I like to run unencumbered by technology—no headphones, no cell phone, not even a watch. I get enough digitalia in my daily work life and enjoy time away from it. As I heard bells clanging the hour from a church on Fifth Avenue, I was reminded of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (link).
Carr cites many of civilization’s inventions that have shaped how we think—from the alphabet to maps to clocks to computers. The clock is a particularly fine example. It used to be that one bell tower served an entire town. It alerted citizens to the hours, the start of rituals, and real breaking news, like invasions or a death. At some point, every household got its own clock, and eventually clocks went mobile. We’ve gone from one clock per town to one (or more) clocks per person, allowing us to be our own timekeepers and decide what news we want delivered to our own personal devices.
Rather than create my own soundtrack, I loved the serendipity of the sounds around me: a pair of street musicians playing Simon and Garfunkel tunes in the Great Meadow, hilarious snippets of cell phone conversations (“Hey, Carlos, I have some good news for you: I’m ready to be a bottom” [no joke!]), the muffled rumble of thunder from a brewing storm, the soft thudding of my shoes on dirt paths, and of course the church bells chiming the hour.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (link) by Mark Haddon is a terrific travel read.
The narrator, Christopher, is a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who has fascinating perspectives on everyday places. It contains many wonderful lines, among them: “People go on holidays to see new things... but I think that there are so many things just in one house that it would take years to think about all of them properly.” It reminds me that while the sights on my New York run were certainly noteworthy—a bevy of supermodels strutting off to work, unfamiliar foliage with exotic blossoms, the riotous Art Deco spire of the Chrysler Building in the distance—I should pay more attention to the variety along familiar, well-beaten roads. Lord knows the San Francisco streetscape can offer up some very surprising visuals!
I love the challenge of navigating through unfamiliar territory, like getting lost on a long run through nature. In Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (link), we learn that humans instinctively excel at visual and spatial memory but have a harder time with words, numbers, and names.
The book takes you to the US Memory Tournament and introduces you to an array of eccentric characters with way too much time on their hands. They commit to memory hundreds of names and faces, the order of multiple decks of shuffled cards, and insanely long digit numbers. The techniques can be applied to more useful tasks, like memorizing speeches, studying a foreign language, learning code numbers, and remembering whether or not you locked your front door when you left the house. Running is an excellent time to use these visualization techniques. In fact, you can use your running route as a “memory palace” to cement the facts you wish to internalize. Check it out.
If you prefer walking to running, you’ll be interested in this article about an experiment on cell phone distraction (link).
In this study, a college student donned a purple-and-yellow clown costume with polka dot sleeves, red shoes, and bulbous red nose. He then hopped on a unicycle and pedaled around the quad for an hour. After pedestrians crossed the square, the researchers stopped the walkers and asked, “Did you see anything unusual?”
Among pedestrians who were listening to music or walking alone, one in three mentioned that they had just seen a clown on a unicycle. Nearly 60 percent of people who were walking with a friend mentioned the clown. But among people who had been talking on the cellphone, only 8 percent spontaneously remembered the clown.
So stay alert and enjoy the scenery while you run or walk. You never know what sorts of things may cross your path, like a clown on a unicycle or a fellow runner who likes to dialogue about books.
San Francisco FrontRunners