Grappling With Humanity
The latest innovation in the world of portable technology is Google Glass, the computer you wear on your face. I have yet to see this thing in person, but I can't help thinking that the first time I do I'm going to find it comical and creepy in equal measures. I mean, dude, you're wearing a computer on your face.
I especially hope that I don't actually have to talk to the person wearing it. It would be positively unnerving to try and have a conversation with someone who may or may not be looking at a LOLcat or a Twitter feed (to say nothing of the less innocent possibilities) while I'm speaking to him. According to an NPR piece I listened to last night, those who are wearing Google Glass are already being labelled "glassholes", and I think I can imagine why.
I'm sure the proponents of progress and innovation would be quick to assure me that I'll get used to Google Glass -- and the imitators that are sure to follow it -- in the same way that I've gotten used the internet, the laptop, and the smartphone before it. They're certainly right that I've gotten used to a lot in my short lifetime, but I think this particular invention might be going a little too far for me.
My whole life, I have watched real interaction with real people being slowly replaced by technology. Video games replaced ball games, discussion boards replaced discussions, virtual worlds replaced the real world. Then laptops let us take these replacements anywhere we could find a place to sit, and then smartphones let us keep these replacements in our pockets all the time. And now, with Google Glass, we will have the option of avoiding human interaction even while ostensibly interacting with people.
Now, before any reader who knows me points out my hypocrisy, let me point it out myself.
I am a blogger. I am a gamer (currently on my third time through Fallout: New Vegas). I am a regular poster on at least five internet forums. I have preferred books to people my whole life, and now I get my books on my smartphone rather than going to buy or borrow them from places manned by real people. In short, I am hopelessly dependent on technology and I am as guilty as anyone of using it as a replacement for a real social life.
All that said, Google Glass still worries me. The times when circumstances force us to come face-to-face with other human beings are the last bastion of real interaction. If I can't go to the store or to a restaurant without a computer screen literally attached to my face, it's pretty much all over. I might as well go full-on Mr. House at that point (if you don't get that reference, good for you). I admit I'm right at the line, but I'm still very afraid of crossing it.
In light of that fear, I'm glad to have aikido.
There is something that has always felt so very separate and different about aikido, like stepping into the dojo is entering another world. I used to think this was about things like the gi and the hakama, the bowing, the Japanese terminology, the weapon racks, the sitting in seiza, and the image of Ueshiba on the kamiza. The more I train, though, the more I come to see these things as nonessential trappings, and the more these trappings lose their novelty for me. What really sets aikido apart from the rest of my postmodern existence is the people.
Grappling is cooperative to the core; it cannot be done alone. Players at aikido, judo, jujutsu, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, etc. are unique among sportsmen. They have no ball, no bat, and no racket. They have no net and no basket. Even in practice, they have no pads or bags to hit, and no forms to train against empty air. There is no medium other than another human being -- one whose sweat will be mingled with your own, whose pain will mirror your own, and whose movements will be real-time responses to your own.
Aikidoists generally don't like to think of their art as primitive, but I think there's something wonderfully primitive about it. The thousands of years we have spent developing new, more diluted ways of interacting with other humans, from the first written words all the way to the current generation of social media, are forgotten: come to me, grab hold of me, and throw and be thrown. Aikido training is as low-tech as my life gets and is more physically intimate than anything I do with anyone other than my wife and daughter. It flies in the face of the e-world of profiles, avatars, and typed messages.
Grappling, I think, offers us a unique opportunity to remember what it is to be human. And it is this memory, I hope, that will prevent me from one day joining the ranks of the "glassholes".
You can find this piece in its original place on the The Young Grasshopper here.
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