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Eduardo Navas


Between the NFL and Data Packets: Usain Bolt Is the Potential of Being Modular

Posted: 08/31/2012 11:17 am

The NFL prepares for its upcoming season, and during exhibition games on television, as wide receivers go deep for spectacular catches, I cannot help but be reminded of exciting moments from the London Olympic Games, particularly in track & field -- when Usain Bolt ran to take three gold medals in the the 100 m, 200 m and 4x100 m relay.

Coincidentally, there has been speculation that Bolt may transition to professional sports such as football in the NFL, although he may prefer soccer. The main reason behind his potential future in either sport is not because he is a good ball handler, in fact, the ball is hardly mentioned. What matters is that Bolt is fast.

I consider Bolt to stand for the potential of being something in more abstract terms, but before I make this point, it is worth considering his possible roles in football and soccer.

In the NFL, the players live for the moment when the quarterback calls for the ball. In sprinting, the runners live for the sound of the gun. In both instances the action will last only a few seconds. It's over in the blink of an eye. The difference in football, of course, is that it consists of a series of sprints, that can last over three hours at times. One can see here why Bolt with the proper training to build resistance could be a good wide receiver.

In soccer the striker sprints to the opposing goal expecting the ball in the right place. When this happens, the striker increases his sprint and the score comes in the blink of an eye. During the Olympic games Bolt ran sprints within sprints adjusting to his competitors in fractions of a second. One can also see here as well that with the proper training Bolt could be a good striker.

Whether or not Bolt will do something else in professional sports while he waits for the next 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil is really not so important as the fact that sprinting may be more appealing at the moment for two reasons. First, Bolt is the fastest man in a sport that, in terms of physical agility, is the foundation of other sports. Anyone can relate to something as simple as running because we can all do it. Second sprinting can be considered a metaphor for the way people interact with the world during the time of the soundbite, of tweets, and of swift texting. In other words, sprinting best encapsulates the essence of being modular in an increasingly networked world.

This analogy is real. How much can a person say with less than 140 characters on Twitter? How fast can a person run 100, 200 and collectively 400 meters? During the games in London Bolt ran under an impressive sequence of 9.63 for 100 m, 19.32 for 200 M, and 36.84 for the 4x100 m relay. It's evident in this case that both tweeting and sprinting are about compression in time and space: both are about efficiency by optimization -- do more in less time.

Computer programmers strive at writing complex software with as little code as possible. Their basic philosophy is the more you do with less code the better, because it makes the program more efficient when computed. In sprint running, the more ground you gain in less time the better, because it can make you the fastest person in the world. Needless to say that the principles of programming are the foundation of social media, especially twitter with its efficiency in micro-blogging. The element programming shares with sprinting, then, is also doing more in less time.

Let's consider the act of sprinting in relation to the Internet. Sprinting consists of bursts of energy, of brief moments when runners strive to break world records within fractions of a second. The Internet is a space where data packets are transmitted, conceptually speaking, as a series of "sprints." Each packets tries to find the fastest way to its destination, just like Bolt during the London Olympics strove to finish his races in record time to win gold.

It becomes evident with these few examples that the thrill of seeing Bolt running a few seconds on the track encapsulates not only the basic principle of professional sports, but also our use of technology to communicate and experience the world.

In other words, there is a reason why people became fascinated with Bolt's speed during the 2012 Olympic games. He represents the potential of being modular -- of being potentially anything if one masters a simple action. Bolt stands for a unit that can become part of something bigger. Bolt stands for the foundation of our world in terms of efficiency. Bolt is a tweet, a text, a data packet. Bolt is speed. And speed is the essence of our globalized world.


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