Natasha Singer, Can Sweatcoin, a Hot Fitness App, Keep You Off the Couch? The New York Times, January 7, 2018
Where Sweatcoin’s approach differs from others, however, is in taking its ideas from behavioral economics, the study of how psychology and emotions influence our decision-making, to motivate people to exercise more. Its rise comes as insurers and corporate wellness programs are likewise furiously trying incentives — including passing out fitness monitors — to nudge people to improve their behavior.
Mr. Derlyatka said the app aims to overcome our human tendency to choose immediate gratification — like doughnuts or binge-watching videos — over activities like daily exercise that offer long-term benefits. By giving consumers points that can buy goodies, Sweatcoin hopes to incentivize couch potatoes to become more active.
Through the WI Lens
Sweatcoin illustrates two things: (1) the premise that “physical movement has economic value” and (2) the power of incentives: nudging people to improve their behavior. Even if the Sweatcoin app comes with severe downsides (as the article shows), the idea to offer a monetary incentive to keep fit will soon gain a lot of traction. Apps will progressively partner with sportswear brands, health services, health insurance firms, environmental groups and various advertisers. They will also invite employers to take part in schemes that encourage their employees to stay fit, or become fitter; possibly with the currency they earn converted into cash and paid alongside their salaries. Innovations like Sweatcoin will keep harnessing the fast-evolving power of technology to improve our health. They have the potential to be powerful solutions to the societal and economic challenges associated with un-wellness, but they also raise profound ethical concerns that range from privacy to security.
As they evolve, these technologies will become more sophisticated, subtler and as a result more invasive. We are not there yet (although the technology already exists), but the day will arrive when companies or governments implant embeddable chips under our skin and use bio-sensing wearable devices to track our activity behaviour.
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”
“All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.”
“The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure.”
“The same broad-sweeping structural racism that enables police brutality against black Americans is also responsible for higher mortality among black Americans with Covid-19,” Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist working on the Covid-19 response, tells Vox.
The take-out from this? Wellbeing cannot exist at a more elevated level without our basic needs being met.