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Swimming Into The Future

This is an article I wrote for Swim Magazine in 1996

You stand behind the block in lane 4, a lone figure on the deck. All ten lanes of the pool are still and glassy. You hear the faint gurgle of water spilling into the overflow gutter. You tilt your head forward slightly as you place the strap of your goggles over your head, lick out the eyecups and settle them into their familiar home. You mount the starting block and take several deep breaths. Let the competition begin.

Information technology is in its infancy. The Web, as we know it today, is an unimaginable cornucopia of information available to the common user at previously unthinkable speeds. It was, just a few short years ago, merely a dream in the eyes of a few techno-weenies with thick glasses and several different colored pens protruding from their plastic shirt pocket protectors. What information technology will allow a few short years into the future is, at this moment, no more than brief sparks of electrochemical energy ricocheting around under the skullcaps of a few of those same techno-weenies - except now they have PDAs behind their pen filled pocket protectors.

"Take your mark" (pause) BLEEP! As you explode from the blocks, your solitary grunt of supreme effort echoes within the natatorium walls. You pierce the water surface cleanly in the middle of your lane. As the surface instantly closes in behind your feet, droplets of water venture through the air into the still quiet lanes on either side of yours, followed by the small waves that get past the floating lane markers.

Standard telephone connections today routinely carry thousands of bits of electronic information literally around the world each second. Affordable hardware in various forms allows the casual user to harness this information for individual use. In time, hardware will become more compact and less expensive. So too, the number of information bits carried will rise into the millions or billions each second. Ethereal data connections such as microwave, infrared, laser and the like are already releasing us from the confining grasp of wires and cables. With all these areas of advancement and some we haven't dreamed of yet we must open our minds to possibilities that seem, perhaps, far fetched at the moment.

Your streamlined gliding body gradually slows to sprint speed. As you approach the surface you begin to take your first stroke of the race. Out of the right corner of your new Speedo Interactive VR Goggles you catch a glimpse of the Russian world record holder in your age group. He's been working on his start. He's ahead of you by at least two feet. Three strokes later a quick glance to your left confirms that the Argentinean threat rings hollow. He's eating your wake already. The high resolution positioning system utilized by all the goggle manufacturers gives you confidence that the images your goggles project onto your cornea are perceived to an accuracy of less than a millimeter. You take four more strokes and as you turn your head to the left for a breath you see half the field is slipping behind your long powerful strokes. Their images are coming via the Web from nine other natatoriums around the world, through the building's internal infrared data channel to the micro-receiver molded into the carbon-fiber frame of your goggles. Several more strokes put you in position for the critical flip turn where you expect to overtake the Russian. Your limb positions and body position are, 60 times per second, captured by the three near-field motion sensors molded into the corners of the goggle frame and the strap. The gyro chip in the nosepiece tracks body speed, attitude and rotation. All this is digitized and transmitted back via the infrared system and the building's ultra-broad-band Web interface to the FINA computer in Sydney Australia.

The current challenge of the Web is how to sort out from among all the available information, that which is of importance to the user and then to present that information in such a way that the user is both empowered by it and integrated with it. This will become increasingly important as the volume of available information grows and the speed with which the information is handled and transmitted increases.

You explode off the wall, milking the slingshot effect of your lightening fast turn for all it's worth. The image of the Russian, although blurred for an instant by some local interference (perhaps a hovercraft with a "dirty" inductor signature whizzing past the natatorium), indicates your pre-race planning and training were not in vain. You are in the lead for the first time in the race. The computer in Sydney, using multi-heuristic algorithms, is combining the digitized information from all ten swimming sites around the world in real-time into a single composite data signal. This composite signal is continuously transmitted via x-ray laser uplink to the satellite grid of the Web. The natatorium's computer, in turn, is continuously downloading the data stream from the Web, rendering a series of spatial images in your frame of reference. These images are sent, 60 times per second, by radio signal to your goggles. You are in the midst of a three dimensional Virtual Race. Your competitors, receiving similarly personalized images, are a hundred, a thousand, or perhaps ten thousand miles away. For you, however, they are within spitting distance.

The advent of instantaneously available information will change the way we live and what we expect from the world around us. It will allow us to more accurately tailor our environment to our needs and desires. Information can connect us more concretely with the real world or remove us more completely from it.

You continue taking longer and faster strokes than the Russian, gaining another foot on him. A last glance douses any worry about an outside smoke threat from the Chinese guy in the wall lane and you bury your head for the last few strokes into the touch pad. The virtual scoreboard with the little HyTek and Colorado logos in the corner immediately flashes into view with your lane and time highlighted with a flashing "WR" beside it. You stab your fist toward the ceiling in a solitary celebration of victory. As you collapse onto your back to stroke out a recovery lap you switch "channels" with a pre-programmed combination of eye blinks. The latest rerun of McGyver flashes into view.

Hey. It could happen. v

H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 1996

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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