@whataboutjason : congrats on your first run, but I think a mile was too much. Remember barefoot running has nothing to do with how much distance you can already cover. Go on half mile runs at most for a bit until everything adjusts. You can still do the vibram runs but I would probably keep them separate. I for instance am going to start doing short barefoot runs in the mornings, under a mile every other day until I start gaining more confidence as my soles adjust as well.
@MamaGrok: It's not always comfortable and it depends on the roughness of the pavement. I can walk on sidewalks with more ease than on roads which around here are much rougher. I stand up at work but don't go barefoot, I stay in socks. I can't say for sure if this is strengthening my feet, it's been only about 3 weeks and sometimes I sit for the second half of the day, but most of the time I'm standing all day at work. I also take walks outside daily, and I do so in these sneakers (Amazon.com: Feiyue Martial Arts Shoes, Black, 31: Sports & Outdoors) which have very little cushioning.
I'm with you on the difference though when shod and unshod when it comes to walking. I experience that myself for sure. I mean, that's really the whole argument though: anything you wear on your feet will change your mechanics. The reason why 95% of runners heel strike is due to the cushioning. I seem to recall from "Born to Run" that humans also naturally try to find hard ground like you said, and that another reason why we literally pound the pavement is because our bodies are subconsciously trying to find that hard surface past our cushioned foot-wear. So the thicker the shoe, the harder we'll hit trying to find that hard ground. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think it was a stability issue or something.
Our feet provide an enormous amount of feedback and we essentially muffle it when we wear anything on our feet. I even walk "harder" when I'm wearing socks around the office than when I'm barefoot at home. I can definitely tell there's a difference.
I was talking to some buddies at my muay thai gym about barefoot running, as running is a big part of their training (I say their and not our because I'm not as constant at the gym as they are, and don't typically run with them) some of them had usual concerns about knee problems, hardness of the ground, etc. I posed the question: "would you punch the heavy bag as hard if you were not wearing gloves or wraps?" "when we spar without equipment (known as "len chen") do you hit me as hard as you would when we wear protective gear?" then went on to say that's what happens when you wear sneakers, it provides a theoretical safe haven so that you end up beating the crap out of your feet and joints. Back when I was a regular at the gym I used to run in swim shoes (which is a cheap alternative to VFF, and also a good way to transition to fully barefoot) and they all used to make fun of me and ask why, now some of them have gotten a pair themselves. The funny thing is, I think most actually did it because they noticed my calves. Muay thai training alone will tax your calves a lot, but barefoot running = nice big calves at least in my experience. They did however report they had to change how they run and have since been injury free, though some abandoned it because they had to run slower and since some are training to fight they have to run faster. They did say they might take it up again post-fight training.