I’m writing this on my phone in the middle of my living room, which is kind of odd but not that odd. But what if I told you I was writing this on my phone in the middle of my living room while standing on a pair of hover shoes?
What are hover shoes, you ask? Good question, and since I’m on my phone, I’m just going to take a picture. Here, hover shoes:
Hover shoes aren’t actually shoes, and they don’t actually hover. While the Germans have terrifyingly specific terms for unnatural phenomena, the English language is hardly as precise, and “hover shoes” is the best term we’ve got. Until shoes that actually hover come along, we should just accept it.
A more tangible antecedent is the hoverboard, the two-wheeled contraption that people on Vine, Wiz Khalifa, and Jake Paul were super into a few years back. Remember them? Well, they were very popular and lots of people had them, until one day they started exploding. As with most things that teens become obsessed with, they were dope as hell; I had one and rode it everywhere I could. Then I gave it to my dad, and now he occasionally rides it in our basement when he’s bored. To my knowledge, the Millard family hoverboard has not blown up.
In order to understand the rise of the hoverboard, let’s look to the years after the fall of Soviet Russia. It was then that the political theorist Francis Fukuyama declared that, since capitalism had outlasted communism, it was therefore the more rational way of doing things. He wrote in his book The End of History and the Last Man and that we’d reached the End of History, a point from which liberal democracy would flop around all over the world and everything would be great. (I’m paraphrasing here.) His argument was essentially a highfalutin’ way of claiming that, since America’s prominence had always been inevitable, and we could all have fun now because we’d gotten the hard part over with.
Fukuyama’s theory turned out to be hilariously wishful — imagine astrology, except for University of Chicago economists — but it’s an interesting frame through which to consider hoverboards as a cultural artifact. They got super huge in 2015, which will go down in history as The Year Before We All Realized Everything Had Gone to Shit. Though things in America were by no means perfect, it felt like we were at least inching incrementally towards a more equitable society, and as long as we kept letting people who seemed smart be in charge of stuff that seemed important, we’d keep heading in the right direction even if we individually chose to check out.
In other words, it was the millennials’ version of the end of history, and high on the same delusional happy-nihilism that blinded the smarmy neocons of the early ‘90s, people got into goofy crap like corporate EDM festivals, dressing like matadors, and, of course, hoverboards. Once, while walking on some trendy street in Los Angeles, I saw a dude riding a hoverboard that he’d slapped a Supreme sticker onto. I should have known then that we were in trouble, but instead, I got kicked out of the Supreme store for trying to ride my hoverboard inside like three days later. Also, I got good enough at riding my hoverboard to do this:
Obviously, this continuity did not last for much longer, and now we understand more than ever how much things have sucked and continue to suck. If the Obama years were a time for misplaced optimism, the Trump years have been a time for seeing death and danger around every corner. Hoverboards were born of the future, appeared to be vaguely safe and at least a little bit straightforward, and then exploded in our faces. Hover shoes at least have the common decency to be upfront about the fact that they’re a goddamn death trap.
It’s one thing to talk about how hover shoes exist, and it’s another, probably more regrettable, thing to shoehorn some cultural studies stuff into an article about hover shoes, but you probably skipped that part so you could get to the part where I tell you how much fun it is to ride on a pair of hover shoes, so let’s get crackin’. As soon as I learned that hover shoes existed, I knew I wanted to try them more than I wanted anything in the world. So, I emailed every hover shoe manufacturer I could find asking if they’d send me a pair to review. Soon, a company called InMotion got back to me and said I could borrow a pair, which is fine with me because since I don’t get to keep them I don’t have to feel bad for writing the following paragraph.
Throughout my test of the InMotion HovershoesX1, which I am contractually obligated to mail back to InMotion at my own expense after finishing this article, I nearly injured myself in several very exciting ways. Riding the $579 personal transportation device, I felt a new emotion: giddiness crossed with the grim certainty of knowing how you are going to die. In this sense, they are like psychedelic drugs, but legal. As soon as you turn them on, their wheels snap to attention, the platforms upon which your feet rest waiting eerily parallel to the ground. They’re controlled by subtle shifts in your body’s center of gravity, meaning that in order to not lose control of your hover shoes you have to stand extremely still. The whole point of stepping onto something, unfortunately, involves drastically shifting your body’s weight, meaning that the first time I tried to use the hover shoes I got one foot on before sending it skittering off like it was a nervous horse, its unmanned ride concluding when it hit a wall.
Another time I tried to use them I didn’t check to see if their respective motors were working, and instead of riding them around my upstairs landing I drifted forward one foot, lost my balance, and ate floor. Also, the little hover shoe platforms are significantly wider than the wheels themselves, meaning that if you put your foot in the wrong place you’ll tip one over and hurt your ankle. Also also, the ceiling fan in my bedroom is kind of low and with the extra five inches the hover shoes give me I nearly decapitated myself. Also also also, they’re not very good at tackling even remotely not-smooth terrain, a fact I learned the first time I tried to zoom over a crack in the sidewalk only to get my wheels stuck in the centimeter-wide crevasse. It turns out that in order to go over things like sidewalk cracks and pebbles without at least one hover shoe wheel jamming in protest is to build up some speed and roll over the obstacle at a slight angle, though doing so will inevitably end in your feet wobbling terrifyingly.
However, no one should ever let a safety hazard stop them from using the shit out of some snazzy new technology, and I am happy to report that hover shoes are probably the best thing humanity has come up with since toilets or lightbulbs, probably. They are fun to ride until you crash, and when you screw up, the only person you’re harming is yourself. (Relatedly, it seems like I should say that if you are inspired to ride a pair of hover shoes after reading this, you need to wear a helmet and/or not sue me if anything bad happens.)
Every time we come up with some whiz-bang new invention like nuclear power, the internet, or smartphones, they carry with them the capacity to rot society on a mass scale. America’s great bastions of capitalism, such as Silicon Valley and the show Shark Tank, tell us that all inventions should fix a problem, and hover shoes don’t really do that, unless your problem is you wish traveling by foot were more dangerous and made you look like a fool. On the other hand, they don’t cause new problems, which can’t be said for everything that’s come out of Silicon Valley and the Shark Tank set. Instead, they’re impractical novelties, something out of The Jetsons rather than artificial intelligence, the hot new technology of the future which people like tech bigwigs and Henry Kissinger warn will plunge us into an IRL version of the Terminator franchise.
Still, let’s not be naive here. In 1947, an unidentified flying object crash-landed in the desert outside of Roswell, New Mexico. And even though the official story states that it was just a weather balloon and not some extraterrestrial spacecraft, I think we can all agree on this: That motherfucker hovered. Who are we to say that it wasn’t a UFO containing alien life and that some branch of the military so shadowy that even the people who work there don’t know they work there secreted it away to some underground bunker and have been reverse-engineering the craft’s technology ever since, slowly laundering all the alien stuff through organizations like the CIA and DARPA ever since? Think about it. We already know, courtesy of its Twitter feed, that the CIA has a vested interest in appealing to the youths. And the mid-2000’s, Dean Kamen, the creator of the Segway (a.k.a. the original gravity-defying self-balancing scooter, a fount from which hovering boards and shoes sprung), received DARPA funding to create robotic prosthetic arms. Why? As a reward for keeping quiet about the alien origins of his so-called “invention.” Meanwhile, the guy who invented hoverboards proper says he’s never made a dime off the technology, probably because the powers that be know that the actual inventor of the hoverboard lives on some planet that’s probably called ZORB-37-Alpha-↭🜾🝳. The prosecution rests its case.
This is how things work, I guess. Militaries, with or without a boost from aliens, take to the shadows to develop technologies that might somehow help us kill people, spin non-lethal versions of it off into society for inventors to tinker with, and then reward those who come up with stuff that they think is cool. I’m not saying that hover shoes are a direct result of this process, but I am definitely saying that they exist in a technological world in which governments looking for new and innovative ways to blow stuff up play a large role in abetting the development of terrifyingly useless new gadgets. If nothing else, being good at riding hover shoes means that you have catlike agility and lightning reflexes and would therefore make a good spy. If you’re reading this and happen to be a CIA recruiter, please consider the following my demo tape: