These days, I have taken to periodically visiting NYU's beautiful gym facilities. Please don't laugh. I like the elliptical machine best: I smoothly propel the pedals up and down to the beat of Mahi Ve; I sweat and I sweat and I go nowhere. There are always a lot of other people there, sleek fitness-type people pushing the handles of their elliptical machines back and forth or running to nowhere on the treadmills; we stare up at the wall of TV screens and pour our energy out, in place. The machine tells me (a) how many calories I have spent, and (b) how many miles I would have gone if I had been running in the real world. Sometimes I imagine it to be a small energy factory: I picture all of our burned calories running the subway system, and we seem very mighty indeed. Of course, this has no basis in fact.
Doesn't it seem completely counterintuitive and unnatural to rid yourself of your body's precious energy on a machine that in turn demands more energy, in a building that demands still more? Isn't it funny to think of all of this machinery dedicated simply to burning calories? Shouldn't the sweat of our brow be a means to an end, not an end in and of itself? Silly kids, stop running on your hamster wheels! Go out and plow a field or something! Hunt down a turkey!
Well, maybe. Find me a field to plow in New York City and I'll plow it for you. But honestly, I'd rather move my legs back and forth, back and forth, to nowhere on the elliptical machine. I've never felt so good running in the real world as I do on the elliptical machine (not even running with Christie!). The feeling of my feet connecting with Mother Earth just hurts my knees and gives me cramps; I'd much prefer the smooth plastic and gratifying calorie count and I imagine the sleek fitness-types who shame me into five more minutes every time would agree. Is this deplorable? Have we lost touch with our natural selves?
Maybe. Perhaps a primitivist would say so. But I don't really think so. Actually, I think it's perfectly natural, a logical step in our adaptation to our changing environment. By 2050, says Wikipedia, "over 6 billion people, over two thirds of humanity, will be living in towns or cities." It's rather unavoidable: as human beings we are becoming more and more detached from the earth, and more and more attached to the plastic of the elliptical machine. We still have to live on the earth, though, and that's what we need to remember. Instead of denouncing urbanization, I think we need to accept it and work with it. Like my friend Adam (who's a lot smarter than I am and writes far more intelligent things on his blog) said the other day, we need to think about how we can make cities sustainable rather than decrying their very existence.
So, scientists, what about my energy factory idea?