Very soon you will be able to earn money just by walking. A new app is about to be launched which will convert your steps into a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin.

With Bitwalking you simply generate money by walking. Once installed on your phone, the free app converts steps to Bitwalking dollars (BW$) that you can manage and use as you wish. The money you generate accumulates each day, and remains in your account until transferred or spent.

This is presented by the app designers as a disruptive and revolutionary innovation (they usually are) but also one with a moral mission. It is proposed that it can help to improve health and happiness by encouraging more exercise. Also, it can improve the environment through pushing us into walking rather than driving and because it mine coins through human movement rather than via computers (which generate carbon emissions). See more in the BBC Click report below.

 

Even more audaciously Bitwalking is also suggested as a enabling freedom and equality.

We believe that everyone should have the freedom, and ability, to make money. A step is worth the same value for everyone – no matter who you are, or where you are. What matters is how much you walk.

The drive to do social good has been presented as central to the development of this new app with the creators including developing countries, such as Malawi, amongst their test sites. It is thought in countries such as this some people could earn as much per day from Bitwalking on their journey to work as they do at work.

Sportswear brands, charities, health insurance companies and environmental groups are to be targeted for involvement in the Bitwalking marketplace where the virtual currency can be used to buy goods or trade for real money. Also, the data will be made available to advertisers (with security and anonymity safeguards, of course).

I have previously developed an argument that self-tracking is contributing towards a reconceptualisation of exercise into labour. Here I suggested that the standardisation of exercise activities through tracking and digitisation and their subsequent accumulation into valuable (to advertisers, insurers and others) data means that exercise activity starts to seem a bit like labour.  I even suggested that perhaps people should be paid for generating these data. It didn’t occur to me that this might actually happen this quickly. In another post I have also explored this phenomenon in relation a similar exercise driven cryptocurrency mining system Fitcoin.

Does it matter that people get paid to walk around? Isn’t it positive if people can get paid to exercise, especially those in developing countries with limited means to earn?

Possibly. Here is the first part of the Wikipedia summary of an episode of the dystopian sci-fi TV series Black Mirror called ‘Fifteen Million Merits’.

In a future dystopia, most citizens make a living pedaling exercise bikes all day in order to generate power for their environment while earning a virtual currency called “merits”. They dwell in small, single-person cells which afford little to no space for material possessions. However, the cell walls consist entirely of interactive display panels, so this society spends their disposable income on the consumption of entertainment and other digitized products. Throughout the day, mandatory advertisements are targeted at individuals. They cannot be dismissed or looked away from without incurring a fee. Those physically unfit to meet pedaling quotas are second-class citizens and are relegated to servile positions, working as cleaners around the machines (where they are objects of abuse), humiliated on obesity-themed game shows, and simulated as virtual targets to be gunned down in first-person shooter video games.

Exercise is already a highly moralized activity. When trying to make sense of the ballooning popularity of running thirty years ago Muriel Gillick (sorry paywalled) suggested that in an increasingly morally uncertain world running is an unproblematically virtuous activity. Overweight and obesity is also already heavily stigmatised in many societies. If exercise is increasingly associated not just with being fit and healthy but individual virtue, social responsibility (by not being a burden on others through ill health and improving the environment), charity, productivity and profitability then this stigmatisation will likely increase.

If exercise comes to be seen as a form of work then any activities for which we are not paid will seem less (financially) worthwhile. Rather than adding value to an otherwise valueless activity might this actually devalue an activity which has inherent value and enjoyment in itself? Thus leading to a Weberian disenchantment?

Another possibility which has been suggested is that:

In the future, employers may be invited to take part in a scheme that would be offered to their employees to encourage them to stay fitter, with the currency they earn converted and then paid alongside their salaries.

This may appeal to some people as they could be paid for their journey to work, for taking their dog out for a walk after work or going for their Sunday stroll. But this also further blurs the already fuzzy boundaries between work and the rest of our lives.

The app designers are utopian:

“For some it will be a free cup of coffee a week perhaps offered by local businesses to encourage people to explore their local shops. For others it could be a game changer, transforming their lives by enabling them to earn and trade in the same way with the rest of the world.

“And all while encouraging us to protect the planet and stay healthy.”

But could this lead to the “workification” of everything?

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