Last year I got a letter from my first grade teacher, Mrs. Rose. She had seen an article about me in our local newspaper in Conyers, Georgia, which had brought back memories from 37 years ago. Apparently, decades of counseling had not quite erased the experience of having a 6-year-old version of me in her class.
Unlike the saleswomen of Gailey’s Shoes — who to this day remind my mother of the time I jumped right into a pile of boxes on the showroom floor — Mrs. Rose was kind enough not to mention any specific acts of chaos I had wreaked upon her classroom. But she did have her own shoe-related memory.
When I entered the first grade, I could read and write and do math fairly well, but I had not yet figured out how to tie my shoes. Tripping over my own laces was a daily accident. So Mrs. Rose took it upon herself to teach me this new skill. And given my lethal combination of hyperactivity and total lack of coordination, it had been a challenge.
If only I had been born in 2010. That way, I would have turned 6 this year and could have marched into the first grade wearing Nike’s brand-new HyperAdapt 1.0 self-lacing tennis shoes. Yes, taking a cue from Marty McFly in “Back to the Future, Part II,” Nike has eliminated laces once and for all and designed a shoe that tightens itself.
Using what the company calls “adaptive lacing technology,” the shoe has a motor which conforms its cushions to the shape of your foot. Press one button for “tight” and another for “loose,” and — “Great Scott!” — the exterior shrinks or expands. The shoes go on sale in November. I couldn’t find a starting price online, but I expect the amount will be, as a friend of mine used to say, “upwards of money.”
You are waiting for me to tell you why you should be upset about this. Maybe I’m getting soft in my usual skepticism of new technology, but I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history if these shoes can help those with disabilities, especially people with motor skills challenges. The inventors also claim the HyperAdapt 1.0 will revolutionize athletics, as players can tighten or loosen sneakers as needed during a game without having to call a time-out. Plus, anything that takes one less set of Velcro straps out of the universe can’t be half bad.
Don’t get me wrong. On principle, I still don’t trust new self-working gadgets. I remember an old horror movie from the 70s where Vincent Price kills a guy by putting a self-tightening mask on his head. And I can recall the exact words of the first conversation I ever had with someone who had used an electric toothbrush:
Michael: “Dude, what happened to your lip?”
Dude: “Dobn’t absk.”
There’s more. Hoverboards were a disaster and tended to catch fire mid-flight. Auto-correct has frustrated countless writers. Yesterday I saw a self-propelled lawnmower making its way down Race Street. Now that driverless cars will soon be a reality, I’m more convinced than ever that in a twist of cosmic irony, I will one day be run over by a self-driving Prius, just because it was distracted by an incoming text from a cute Audi in the Kroger parking lot. Either that, or I will be strangled by a self-knotting necktie.
It’s true that the new self-lacing shoes have to be charged every two weeks, a process that takes approximately three hours. That’s a long time to stand while you’re waiting to take your shoes off. And if the battery goes dead when a basketball player needs to adjust his or her sneakers during a game, the timeouts for lacing could get out of hand fast. Not to mention the potential for sabotage if the opposing team hacks into the forward’s shoe and causes a meltdown.
But my real problem with the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 is that it renders useless all that work Mrs. Rose and I did back in 1978. Plus, to this day, bending over to tie my shoe is one half of my daily exercise routine. What is the other half, you ask?
Ah, you forget. I have two feet.