Fitcoin, exercise and the logic of capital

Would you exercise for money?

 

A new online currency system has been developed to reward people for their exercise activity. Fitcoin is a “cryptocurrency” like Bitcoin (currently it actually uses Bitcoin but there are plans to develop their own) which has been produced by the company Chaotic Moon. It runs through an iOS app when connected to an activity tracker like Fitbit, the phone is used to “mine” new Bitcoins and effectively converts the user’s exercise activity into virtual currency. The company website describes the system like this:

“FitCoin is a connected app ecosystem leveraging the power of your fitness tracker to generate cryptocurrency. After your workout, your wearable sends the data to the Fitcoin app that is analyzed to find out how hard you were pushing yourself. It also detects your exact activity so weight lifters won’t get snubbed.

FitCoin uses a calibrated algorithm so your effort matches your payout. Your average heart rate, distance, and pace are counted and turned into a FitCoin value. Your FitCoin value totals the amount of bitcoin you’ve earned—from your workout to your (BitCoin) wallet.”

 

The system is currently in a testing phase and is technically still a proof of concept although it has generated significant interest not least from Adidas and Nike (who might consider it a more advanced replacement for their NikeFuel system). If one of these big corporations do get hold of Fitcoin it is likely that it will be presented in a friendlier way but the commercial, neo-liberal, entrepreneurial spirit is currently clear in the slogans found on Chaotic Moon’s website (even if it is semi-satirical):

“Sweat for coin. Get rich. Die Young. Submit to the gods of image and wealth.”

A demonstration at SXSW festival showed a designer run on a treadmill for 40 seconds and generate five cents. While this is unlikely to be a route to riches the company are suggesting reductions in health insurance premiums or free merchandise as potential applications.

It is possible that such a system will be effective as a motivational tool (if ethically questionable) but what is more interesting to me is the cultural impact it might have on the meaning of exercise. Will exercise come to be seen more like work (an idea I have already developed elsewhere)? Especially when language such as “mining” is used.

Fitcoin seems to perform all of the necessary functions to transform an activity into labour which generates value. Heterogeneous exercise activities are transformed into a standardised form (a digital trace) which can be combined and compared with others and can take on an exchange-value from which profit can be extracted.

When considered in this way Fitcoin seems to be turning exercise into a form of “digital labour” so perhaps it is positive for people to be paid for the value they are generating for corporations. There have been (partly satirical) calls for Facebook to pay users for the value they produce through “liking” on their site for some time. However, there might be more problematic impacts on how we conceptualise exercise.

A divide may already be emerging between those exercise activities which are tracked and those which are not with the more enthusiastic trackers seeing little point in untracked activity. Perhaps this will also happen with monetised and non-monetised exercise. Anyone who has ever trained for any kind of long running race has probably been asked “who” or “what” they are running for. The implication being that it is something of a waste to dedicate time to running without generating money for charity. This logic could easily be transferred to a more individualistic narrative. What is the point in exercise unless you are earning?

 


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