Techwit: Hiking the Great Indoors

Posted: Sunday, August 04, 2002

It was the great comedian and philosopher Howie Mandel who once said, "I used to jog three miles a day until I realized how much easier it would be if I drove."

Techwit By Jason Ohler

That's what technology is all about: Dispensing with anything resembling real work as quickly and painlessly as possible. Like making toast or traveling a hundred miles with a 50-pound load. You could do those the old-fashioned way, but you don't.

Alas, so many people just don't get it. Even worse, their ignorance can make them quite indignant. For example, when people find out I'm from Alaska they assume I like to hike. When I tell them that I prefer watching the Nature Channel on TV while hiking on my StairMaster exercise machine, they're appalled. When I tell them I do it next to an open window to add natural ambiance they just get madder! When their curiosity eventually gets the better of them, I'm always happy to explain myself. There are a number of good reasons for hiking indoors.

First, TV commercials give you time for food breaks. Because ads occur every 10 minutes or so you can plan for the future with a great deal of precision. But when you're hiking outdoors you have to eat when you're hungry, and who knows when that's going to be?

Second, ditto for potty breaks. And bonus, there's a specific place for them indoors. Not so in the wild. In fact, god knows what EPA law you're breaking every time you relieve yourself in the woods.

Third, the StairMaster allows you to set your own pace. Let's say you want to cool off a bit with some downhill walking. No sweat indoors - just adjust the speed and incline of the machine. But outdoors the demon trail dictates everything. If it happens to get steeper just when you need a break, tough bunions. Apparently, human rights mean nothing to Mother Nature.

Fourth, when hiking indoors you always know where you are. This is not the case outside. Sure, GPS (global positioning system) technology is so accurate that it can tell you that you're within a few feet of a cliff, but that doesn't constitute knowing where you are. Besides, you aren't really anywhere if FedEx can't reach you.

Fifth, there's a safety issue. Be honest - would you rather face a bear in the wild or on a TV screen where it falls under the jurisdiction of your remote control? Sure, wolves and bears look cuddly on National Geographic. But they have bad days just like everyone else, and when they do you'd better make sure the off button is close by.

Sixth, and most importantly, hiking indoors allows you to add special effects to the audio portion of your TV signal, including anything you watch on the Nature Channel. Have you ever heard an eagle call processed through a reverb unit? Or a Grizzly Bear roar combined with a screaming electric guitar? Imagine Walt Disney meets MTV. Awesome.

And that's just the beginning. There's new software called Muse-Ick that allows you to process the natural sounds coming through your window, turning them into whatever you need to make your day more pleasant. Like that nasty crow that wakes me up every morning. It used to sound like a drill sergeant with a sore throat until I got my copy of Muse-Ick. Now every time it squawks I hear Julie Andrews singing the Sound of Music. It's a beautiful thing.

You got yer nature, and yer human nature. While I love 'em both, they're sometimes in conflict. When I have to choose, I just ask myself: Would I rather wash my laundry by beating it on a rock or do my laundry in a washer while listening to rock with a beat? The choice is obvious.

Jason Ohler is professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast and can be reached at © 2002 Jason Ohler.

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