Short Fiction Sunday

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(I just got this idea in my head about FitBits taking over our lives and forcing us to get a certain step count.  Then, my mind took it a different way.  I’ve read way too many dystopian books so there is a certain bent of a nanny state gone wrong.  Another case where I couldn’t make the idea leave my head so I just tossed some words together.  And, since it my blog, I’m going to subject you to it)

8000, 8001, 8002, ….

The numbers slowly went up as he walked on the treadmill in the fitness room that all houses were required to have.  It was late and his wife was long in bed having hit her designated target hours ago.  She had started to argue with him early in the evening when he told her how many steps he was lacking.  Of course, she wanted him to jump on the treadmill and finish up before doing anything else but he wanted to help their son with his homework and watch a little TV to unwind from another mindless day at work.  Truth be told, he was a little tired of having to do this day after day and getting close to the deadline was really the incentive he needed.  He did consider simply coming up short today.  After all, the government made it clear that this was not mandatory but just something that good citizens should want to do.  He had thought that was true until the day they came for his neighbor who had bragged repeatedly about coming up short.  The official story was that the family was being transferred but transfers were rarely done with armed escorts.  Still, it did not pay to question so he hoped for the best and kept plodding along.  Lucky for him that the limit was still 10000 steps.  The fitness minister was pushing for 12000 and eventually 15000.  After all, if 10000 was healthy, more would be healthier.  Other ministers had not yet agreed but it was only a matter of time before the limit went up.

8500, 8501, 8502, …

Oh how he wanted to rip the little device off of him but it was surgically implanted and permanently attached.  He remembered talking with his grandfather on the day he had been implanted.  His grandfather recalled a day where people wore these devices for fun and not everyone had one.  Soon, the government noticed and, in a day where health care costs were rising, had moved to make this not voluntary.  The reasoning was simple.  Citizens had a moral responsibility to stay healthy to reduce the overall burden on society.  Once that became the norm, it was easy for the government to move in multiple different ways.  Severely rationing unhealthy things like sugar and fat.  Outright banning of food items and forced closure of restaurants that would not adhere to new guidelines on what could be served.  Then, it was on to exercise and restricting car travel in favor of bicycles or walking and, of course, the step counters.  When the government scientists figured out a way to recharge them without extracting them, it became mandatory.  The devices sent signals to various government transmitters so everyone’s progress could be monitored.  His knees started to ache as the steps kept going up and he remembered the day his grandfather was taken to a government care facility because the pain kept him from the required steps.  As was custom, he never saw his grandfather again and he liked to believe he was taken care of but who really knew for sure.  There were procedures to fix things like this but they cost and someone way back in the past had said something like take the pill rather than the surgery.  It was never clear if someone had actually said that but the health ministry certainly acted that way since their main mandate was to keep costs down.

9000, 9001, 9002, …

The silly thing was that he had ridden his bicycle the five miles to and from work today.  The temperature was in the range where the government strongly encouraged people to forgo cars and walk or bike to work.  You would think that the bicycling would count towards the exercise goal but it did not.  There were long drawn out battles in the government over whether it should.  The groups the represented treadmills were adamantly opposed because most houses had multiple treadmills and so business was good as treadmills wore out and needed to be upgraded.  The government controlled prices to make sure the companies didn’t gouge consumers but it was still a good business to be in and the treadmill producers had a lot of influence in the government.  Naturally, the bicycle industry saw an opportunity to reduce that influence and increase their own and so they had pushed to figure out a way to grant people credits for cycling certain distances.  In the end, the government scientists couldn’t agree on the proper formula and it wasn’t considered fair since not everyone could get out and cycle so the proposal was dropped and the rule was that you had to hit 10000 steps no matter what other exercise you did during the day.  Of course, the government was happy if you did more and those who did were often rewarded as his wife had pointed out during multiple arguments.  She routinely hit 15000 steps but he would always stop right at 10000.  He told her that if they wanted more, they should tell them to do more.  She would always tell him that a good citizen would want to do more than the minimum but he never did.  He did realize that there was probably some file on him somewhere that had him listed as a not so good citizen but he really didn’t care.

9500, 9501, 9502 …

Life would be easier if his office had a supply of treadmill desks that most businesses did.  Those workplaces would trumpet those things and show happy employees doing their mindless tasks and getting their steps in so they could relax at night.  Of course, that was all for show, those jobs were coveted and only given to people with the right connections – most of them had families in the government.  The rest of the people worked at less important industries that were needed to support the economy.  The government told them what they could produce and what they could sell it for and allowed for a minimal amount of profit just to keep the business alive.  While his company did have a meager gym (it was a government requirement that all places of business gave employees access to fitness), there were only two functional treadmills and the company hierarchy dictated who got to use them.  The rest were left to walk around the room hoping to get their steps in but the company only provided the mandatory 15-minute exercise break so the rest you had to do on your own.  The labor bureau sent people in to investigate once a year and they pulled company records to check compliance.  Given that most people were able to get their steps in, the labor bureau saw no reason to force the company to add additional exercise periods.  It didn’t matter that most people had to take time away from their family to finish up the steps because all the government cared about was hitting the target.  Of course, off the record, most of the government workers were exempt from the requirement because working for the government was already the mark of a good citizen.  The fact that a large number of government workers were out of shape was not lost on him but there was really nothing he could do except keep taking step after step until …

9999, 10000 ….

There was a little chime and a voice from his device that said “Thank you citizen for completing your steps.  All of us must work to keep the country healthy.  Your fellow citizens thank you for doing your part.”

About 30 seconds later, a second message came through.  This one was not in the happy tone of the previous message but delivered like a parent lecturing a child.  It said “Citizen, it is close to midnight.  Good citizens complete their steps long before the deadline.  Try to do better in the future.”

He didn’t care about the second message.  He needed a shower.  And he had to get up early tomorrow so he wasn’t going to get the government recommended 8 hours of sleep.  At least that was only a recommendation and not a mandate … for now.

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