The Ties That Bind
I can tie my shoes without thinking about it, but it wasn’t always so. My dad taught me how. Some actions, like tying a tie or knotting shoe laces, resist the language to describe performing them. The individual manipulations are too intricate, or the words to explain them are too vague to be languagable as a set of instructions. Such actions are best demonstrated, step by step, by a knowledgeable instructor. And, just as I cannot tie a tie without imagining my dad behind me showing me the overs and unders and throughs, so I cannot tie my shoes without a sense of his presence beside me, having me imitate him holding the laces of his shoes straight up, then crossing one lace over and under the other, forming one lace into a loop with pinched thumb and forefinger, bringing the other lace over and under and through to form another loop, then snugging them tight, two equally-sized loops perpendicularly positioned atop the shoe’s eyelets.
Nike Inc. has introduced a power-lacing sneaker, which it is calling the HyperAdapt 1.0. In this “adaptive lacing system,” the heel of the foot contacts a sensor that activates two buttons the wearer presses for a looser or snugger fit. Future HyperAdapt models will dispense with the buttons altogether, providing, according to the product announcement, the “ultimate solution to individual idiosyncrasies in lacing and tension preference.”
Nike’s president and CEO asserts that what’s being sold is more than a commodity, more, really, than a shoe, but an individualized experience. “In the “era of personalized performance, “ he says, Athletes want more than a dashboard. They want a relationship”–meaning, I take it, that athletes want not just variations on one type of shoe, or even different types of shoe, but, rather, a shoe whose lacing and tension are responsive, at any moment, on the fly, to the fit best suited to their particular needs.
Technology expands, relentlessly, and it sometimes, maybe oftentimes, seems that in doing so it adds not one iota of meaning to our lives or the world in which we live our lives. It expands for no sake, pity’s nor goodness’s nor heavens’, but only in response to the buccaneering urge for expansion itself, for an unswerving imperative to go on going on.
Still, I can understand how a self-lacing, automatically tensioning shoe can benefit elite athletes, for whom tenths, even hundredths, of a second, can be the mini-tick difference between winning and losing. I can understand how such a shoe can aid those with limited flexibility or fine motor skills, or those who simply have never learned to master the convolutions of shoe tying.
But, barring some disability or the infirmity of age that sets knotting at naught, I cannot see myself ever using, ever wanting to use, a power-lacing shoe. For me, tying my shoes is already a “personalized” experience, already a “relationship.” Every time I perform that seemingly mundane act, a memory quickens and rises from the deep shaft of time, translates then to now, collapses my kid past and my adult present, anchors the “I” I am to the “I” I was–and there he is, dad, sitting next to me, patient in my fumbling attempts, saying, “It’s okay, let’s try it again, you’ve almost got it, just do what I do,” and I watch his hands, with all the boyish concentration I can muster, watch his hands and imitate their movement, watch the hands that would later teach me to hold a golf club, solve long-division problems, operate a car’s manual tansmission, cut a mortise-and-tenon joint. I watch.
Certain actions can express as much as, sometimes more than, the practical function they serve. Significance does not necessarily correlate with size. The smallest things, the most ordinary things–even tying one’s shoes–can shed a luster, can echo in our hearts, shimmer in our minds. Dad taught me to tie my shoes. That memory is an heirloom of my self, the legacy of I was in the I am, a hand-me-down that hands me down. Dad guided me to an early moment of mastering a complicated skill, led me, by his hands, to by-my-own-handedness. That is a memory that I linger in, a memory from which I do not seek to be released.