Tech Flesh 14: Born to be Wired

"Natural" Runner

Running can be described as natural, simple, and the ultimate experience in becoming one with yourself and with the world. Many avid runners feel that it is almost sinful to run with a walkman. I used to feel this way also and would only bring mine in extreme situations when I really needed a distraction from life. I soon realized, however, that incorporating this technology into my "pure" sport is also simple and natural. Some days I cannot imagine my life without it. In fact, I feel that I have become a cyborg.

I wake up in the morning and lace up my running sneakers. I get ready to head outside for my run, but not before picking up my radio walkman. Instinctively, I make sure the headphones are plugged into my ears. I thread the wire through the neck of my T-shirt and out through the sleeve before inserting it into the base. This keeps the wire from swinging while I run. The closeness of the wiring to my body makes me feel more compact and efficient. I wrap the velcro band of the walkman around my arm and it is tight enough to constrict my bicep a little as I flex the muscle. I wish it were even more permanent and did not slide or rotate. My bright yellow piece of technology is apparent on my human form and I am ready to begin. I am now a cyborg.

I can adjust the volume and switch between five radio stations by reaching my right hand across my body to my upper left arm. It is almost as if the controls are on my arm itself. The headphones insert into my ear so that they are almost inside the ear cavities. I have become wrapped up in wiring and controllers with the invisible sound of music data streaming from the machine into the interior of my ears. This information is then processed and spread throughout my whole body as if it were a material being ingested into my bloodstream.

The music actually does spread through my body; it exerts control much in the same way as nutrients. It provides energy to my body and mind as I traverse miles and miles of pavement, sidewalk and trails. If I am feeling tired it can recharge my body in an instant. When one of my favorite songs comes on, my body feels lighter, my arms feel freer, and my mind is renewed in its efforts. I can even switch modes and press a different button if I want to hear another song. This new song alters my body in its own ways; thus my body changes gears in response to the technology that entwines it.

The beat of the music is like a command. Implicitly, it directs my legs to pace themselves with the rhythm of the song. Each time one of my feet hits the ground the beat reverberates through my body in synchronization. The tips of my toes feel the effects of the music pouring through my ears. When a faster song comes on, I cannot help but move more quickly. It is almost as if my legs are wired into the walkman and are programmed to react to the invisible sound waves stemming from the radio tower somewhere out of my sight. I know they are subject to the whim of the disc jockeys picking the songs on the five radio stations at any given time, but it is the calculated randomness that keeps my body fresh and receptive to the next song.

As I listen to the music, I am transported into my own world. My surroundings are irrelevant and my body becomes unnoticeable. I am whisked away into a bubble in which the music and voices are sounding only for my ears, my mind, and my spirit. Each phrase has an intensified meaning and each melody is sweeter. No music has ever sounded and felt so good. I could hear the same songs on the stereo in my room but they would never have the same meaning or passion as they do when I hear them as a cyborg on the run. People pass me on the sidewalk and cars drive by me on the streets. Everyone carries on as usual and no one notices me in my invisible realm with my personal and unique experience of sound. Thoughts stream through my head like at no other time of the day. My mind is mechanical and analyzes every detail of a problem or goes over every statement of a conversation. I come up with plans, schedules, and solutions to dilemmas with an ease that is not found during my normal daily routine.

My body feels like a machine as well. The music puts me into a zone in which I feel I could continue the movements of running forever. I focus on the energy in the instruments and voices as opposed to my own breath or motion. I move through the world effortlessly, my mind lost in the depths of the song and my body functioning perfectly, as programmed by that tower in the distance.

My pace slows as I approach the door. I have arrived home and must release the world I create when I touch the power button on my left arm. I push the button, unplug the prosthetics from my ears, de-wire my body, and unhook my control panel from my arm. In an instant, I return to the silence and noise of reality. My mind has a hangover from the return trip and it may take me a few minutes to compose my thoughts. My body is freed from the trance of my other world and lacks the directions it received from the surges of music. It feels empty yet completely fulfilled by the hour it spent enraptured in the technology of music, radio, and portable sound systems. I may turn on the stereo and hear the same song I just turned off, but it is different in so many ways. The music is no longer mine alone, because I must share it with others in the same space. The data streams into the room and disperses like shattered glass instead of being perfectly inserted into my ears.

For the rest of the day, nothing can parallel the intense feelings I experienced while running with my twenty-five dollar walkman. I am no longer a cyborg, but I look forward to tomorrow when I get to transform myself all over again.

Lisa Anderson is a biology major at Boston College and will attend Georgetown University Medical School in the fall. An avid runner, she recently finished her first Boston Marathon.