Jake passes the three mile marker of his morning run and, as he does so, the calories he’s burnt are automatically added to the weekly total collected by his fitness app. He’s relieved to have made it halfway through. It’s his second of five runs that his app has set for this week. It strongly suggested (with hourly prompts) that he should complete an additional run every evening, even offering him double credits as an incentive.
Jake plods on, one foot after the other, increasing his totals and steadily eating into the distance, despite the painkillers he’d taken earlier doing nothing for the dull ache that pounds his lower back with each stride. Ahead of him, his route is projected onto the treadmill’s heads-up display, revealing that the mass of runners he’d started with have thinned to a stream of bobbing heads that stretch off into the distance.
“Message Brad,” Jake calls out. The treadmill screens updates to display the messaging app in the bottom-right of the screen, and beeps. “Are you ready to go, Buddy? Send Message,” Jake adds.”
Brad needed to leave for school in the next few minutes or he’d miss the bus.
A moment later, a beep rings out and Brad has replied with a ‘thumbs up’ emoji.
On the trackside, a virtual marshal shouts encouragement as Jake passes by. “Come on. Dig deep. Every mile counts. You’re doing great.” The level of enthusiasm is enough to make Jake want to punch him.
Maybe it would burn a few extra calories?
Distracted by the marshall, Jake’s stride falters and his foot clips the edge of the treadmill, sending him stumbling forward. His arms flail wildly as he fights to regain his balance and somehow, despite over stretching, he manages to keep himself upright and grabs hold of the treadmill frame for support. When his foot hits the treadmill belt on his next stride, a sharp pain slices through his left knee. Shit. He reaches down for the joint and rubs it, doing what he can to ease the pain as he continues to run.
He doesn’t stop running.
Jake’s neighbour, Lance, had introduced him to the running app a year ago. (No doubt making some credits from the referral in the process.) Like Lance, Jake opted for the ‘deluxe’ option which meant he received the latest home treadmill and a weekly supply of health supplements when signing up. In return, all he needed to do was view a handful of short advert pop-ups as he ran. It was a no-brainer to gain access to the latest fitness tech.
Things changed two months ago when the app surpassed two billion users and shareholders began pushing for a return on their investments
The original Terms and Conditions, which Jake had never read, even though he’d clicked to confirm he had, were updated. Now, runners were required to purchase their supplements instead of receiving them for free, and the cost of the equipment needed to be recouped. The currency to pay for these items was miles, or more specifically, the energy runners generated in covering those miles.
Treadmills stopped being powered by the national grid, and began to feed it.
It’s a freemium product, Lance explained to Jake, as if he were spelling it out to a child. “It’s a standard business model.” Lance rolled his eyes. “You do know that if you’re not paying for a product, then you are the product, don’t you?”
Jake winced. The pain in his knee was getting worse. He eased his pace. It would be better to jog the rest of course and clock up the miles, rather than trying to finish quickly and risk damaging his knee any further or not finishing at all.
A flash of fluorescent yellow shoots past him.
“Keep up, slow poke,” Lance calls out.
Lance is kitted out in the latest hi-tech running gear; tight, light-weight clothing and branded trainers. They set off together this morning, which meant Lance was now a lap ahead. Jake scowls after him as he barges off through the field at a ridiculous pace.
Jake’s heads-up display alerts him of an in-coming call from Brad.
“I’m leaving now, Dad. See you later.” There’s a pause before he adds, “do you think we could get some Pepsi this week?”
An advert starts to play across the bottom of Jake’s display; a family lounging on a beach, glugging from ice-cold bottles of Pepsi. None of them are running. The cost of each bottle is listed next to the logo.
“Err, I’m not…”
“Greg’s dad gives him a can with his lunch every day.”
Jake waits for the advert to finish before swiping it away. The credits he’s earned are added to his account with a chime. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks, Dad. Maybe I could get me a treadmill? I could buy my own Pepsi. And there’s this new game—”
“I don’t want you worrying about treadmills,” Jake cuts in. “I’ll take care of the Pepsi. Okay?” Jake sighs and then adds, “listen, you have a good day at school and I’ll see you when you get back.”
Jake ends the call and swipes through the heads-up display to his calendar. He confirms his attendance at a week of evening runs and his online basket chimes with pending credits.
He takes a deep breath. The pain in his back throbs, and his knee joint grinds, but with each stride, his fitness app counter flicks forward, increasing its totals. Ahead of him, among the crowd of other runners, Lance’s yellow vest becomes something to aim for.
Steve Campbell’s work can be found in places such as Spelk, Fictive Dream, MoonPark Review, Molotov Cocktail, The Cabinet of Heed and Flashback Fiction. You can follow him via twitter @standondog and his website, standondog.com.