Tennis Technology

August 30, 2010

A good friend of mine secured me a press pass for the ladies final of the Pilot Pen Open tennis championships in New Haven.  This meant capturing images and freezing moments not as easily observed in real-time from a more distant vantage point.

As a former tennis instructor, what struck me is the full-blown paradigm shift that has been almost entirely occasioned by the new technology and materials common in the sport.  I can still recall the day at the University of Miami when the Pepperdine Team arrived on court wielding revolutionary large-headed rackets newly minted by Prince, a company none of us had heard of.

At their first unveiling, these comparatively gargantuan sticks caused most purists to giggle with open derision.  Frankly, me and my friends wouldn’t have been seen dead with one of these things.  Yet, now combined with super-light and highly tensile carbon graphite, this radically new shape became the catalyst of change in one sport, equivalent to the movement from the Stone to the Bronze Age.

In tennis, while the goals and the scoring have remained constant, many of the ground-strokes to achieve victory have fundamentally shifted from a gradual sweeping movement to a thrashing, violent snap.  Spins and speeds that would have been impossible to sustain 20 years ago are now commonplace in every match with every player on the tour.

So often we think that tools are simply a convenient extension enhancing our labors, but in fact many times our tools fundamentally determine the expression of how our labors are going to be performed.  Computer keyboards look much the same as those on typewriters, but PC’s completely change the approach of crafting words on paper.  In its day, film was great, but digital imaging directly crystallizes artistic captures completely beyond the capabilities of the once hallowed Kodachrome.   

Indeed, while technology enables us to articulate a vision, it also defines that vision, and, if we’re open, extends the landscape to new horizons we may never have dreamed of.

Naturally, what’s true in the world is often true in the Church.  Historically, the zeal to put the Scripture in the hands of all believers was a theological idea, yet it would have been impossible apart from Gutenberg’s incredible invention.  Many assume the theology predated the technology, but can we say for sure that the once inconceivable printing press wasn’t the real catalyst for the ecclesiastical belief?

Sometimes we’re resistant to the embrace of new tools because we’re afraid that they will become an impediment to the art.  Still, with a little faith, we often find the core dynamic preserved, while the wider expression adapts and advances.