The internet is making us stronger, faster and fitter. But this is not the story that we usually like to tell. The more popular version is that the internet is causing us to spend more time sitting at desks, staring at screens, and making us more sedentary than ever before. And there is some truth to this. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.
To understand another side to this story, let me take you back to my youth as a scrawny, unathletic, awkward teenager in the pre-internet years (yes, I’m old.) Like most scrawny, unathletic, awkward teenagers, I had dreams of developing my physical prowess. I wanted to be stronger, faster, more muscular, more athletic—to be very specific, I wanted to be a ninja.
But how to begin? In the pre-internet era, there were very few places to turn to learn how to develop ninja-like skills. I could buy books, which I occasionally did, on bodybuilding or martial arts. Or I could send away for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding instruction guide that was frequently advertised in the back of comic books. I did that too.
These resources may have been somewhat helpful, but they were limited. There were no videos to watch to check your technique. There were no forums where you could go to ask a question or browse the questions and answers from others who went before you. And there were no testimonials of people who had actually achieved results from these programs to inspire and motivate you. Sadly, I never became a ninja.
But scrawny, unathletic, awkward teenagers today have so many more resources. The internet helps them to become fitter in many ways:
- It breaks down the intimidation barrier. When I was growing up, if I was curious about taking a yoga class or a karate class or fitness class (“aerobics” back in the day) I had to walk into a class with no idea of what I was getting into. It required a lot of courage to try something new as there was very little information you could find about whatever you were going to do. Today, a newbie to yoga or Crossfit or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can not only learn all about the specific school or class they are joining, but they can also download beginner classes to develop a base foundation before going in. They can read about tips and suggestions for how to prepare for their first class. They can find communities of other people who are practicing in that domain and ask questions or get advice.
- It shows how to get results. Rather than being limited to the one bodybuilding program that was advertised in the backs of comic books, today there are countless programs and pathways to getting fit. Using the internet, you can look at reviews and testimonials from real people that have used these programs so you can see what really works. Perhaps most interestingly, you can find “progressions” that guide beginners to get from zero to just about any kind of ninja skill you would like to develop. Want to know how to do a handstand, a backflip or an iron cross on the gymnastics rings? There’s a progression for that, and someone on the internet is willing to share it with you, probably for free.
- It shows what is possible. This is the most powerful way that the internet makes us stronger. It shows us that change is possible. It can be hard to find the motivation to start a new fitness program when you aren’t sure if it will really work. Today, you can join or browse communities on the internet of people who are doing P90X or Crossfit or Capoeira (or whatever your point-of-entry may be,) and you can see the kinds of results they are getting. You can find people who have accomplished what you would like to accomplish and download their interviews, tutorials, blog articles and videos. Ido Portal is an example of one internet sensation that is giving rise to a whole new generation of “movers.” And Arthur Boorman, an injured veteran who filmed his journey back to health through yoga, inspired millions of people (more than 11 million judging by YouTube hits) to consider moving beyond their physical limitations. If you saw the video, you were awed by the possibilities of how long-term effort can lead to physical transformation. If you didn’t see the video, you should.
Don’t listen to the doomsday naysayers predicting that our bodies are all wasting away as we increasingly plug into the “Matrix” of technology. The internet is a wealth of information and inspiration that anyone can use to unleash their inner ninja.
Interesting article that just came out and ties into this idea of people getting fitter nowadays. The trend towards “spornosexuals”: young men getting shredded to look like the athletes that show their bodies in provocative ways (“sports” + “porn” = sporno)– http://www.esquire.co.uk/culture/features/7588/the-rise-and-rise-of-the-spornosexual/.
The Internet is a fantastic source of information and I for one am glad that somebody is pointing out the positives instead of the negatives for a change 🙂
I’m interested in the way social media is changing us psychologically both positively and negatively and I was really pleased to find your blog entry – really refreshing. It makes clear what for many is an unconscious activity, that being the use of the internet as a safe means of taking steps towards reaching potential. The problem of course, is that the internet can easily become a safe haven for avoiding the things we really want to do that make us socially anxious. You are rightly saying that online learning can bolster confidence in taking a further step, but for some it becomes the preferred means to avoid it. In this case, some work on self-confidence – perhaps using a compassion focussed approach might help them take the big step.
Thanks for giving me stuff to think about today Jeremy!