The growing sport of parkour, which might be described as a sort of street gymnastics, provides a concrete example of how people are merging the virtual worlds of online life with their actual physical practices.
So says NIU sociologist Jeffrey Kidder.
The relatively new, noncompetitive sport, also described as a physical discipline, originated in France and is based on athletically and artistically overcoming urban obstacles. Sometimes at great risk of personal injury, participants run, leap, somersault, swing and flip through cityscapes, overcoming architectural obstacles such as edges, railings, staircases and walls.
Kidder recently published a video and written analysis of the phenomenon in the journal, “City & Community.” The video features the acrobatic feats of parkour in Grant Park and other downtown Chicago locations.
The NIU Department of Sociology professor himself spent a year and a half observing parkour and interviewing participants, known as traceurs.
Kidder argues that the growth of parkour is directly linked to the Internet and the online experiences of those who participate. Much of what is known about parkour is spread through the Internet, especially through video footage posted online.
“My analysis of parkour underscores how globalized ideas and images available through the Internet and other media can be put into practice within a specific locale,” Kidder says.
“Practitioners of parkour engage their immediate, physical world at the same time that they draw upon an imagination enabled by their on-screen lives.”
His analysis also runs counter to a common criticism of technology – that its users plug in and tune out, receding from the real world and trading corporeal experiences for artificial ones.
“Traceurs are plugged in and tuned in to the world around them, and the former is dependent on the latter,” Kidder says.
“Instead of using information and communications technologies to retreat from physicality and real-world activity, the online practices of parkour actually encourage individuals to also go out and play in their material environment.”