Almost every day for over a year now, I’ve worn a black rubber strap around my wrist, which—at the push of a button—tells me not only the time of day, but also how much work my body has done up until that very moment. The energy is quantified in calories, steps, and fuel points corresponding to a scale developed by Nike, who has been selling this nifty little gadget, the FuelBand, since January of 2012.
You can pick one up for about $150, and what impelled me to spend that kind of money, I have to say, is an avowed weakness for pop gadgets and futuristic design. Still, it’s been increasingly hard to ignore how FuelBand is symptomatic of a lifestyle that I regularly oppose in my work as a scholar, critic, and artist. I would even go so far as to say that one of the main goals of art itself is to stand firmly against a reality in which space and time are programmed rhythms and instruments of homogenization—as they so patently are for any wearer of a FuelBand.
This gadget’s main problem, of course, is that it forces one to think about the movements of the human body in numerical terms, which vary in strict accordance with space/time equations. Wrist instruments for measuring calories are not new. Nike, however, was the first to offer such a product not for discreet technical or aerobic purposes, but rather for everyday life. The FuelBand invites the user to “Decide how active you want to be by setting a daily NikeFuel goal. Then, get moving and see your progress along the way.”
The origins of the modern conception of space/time are usually traced back to the Industrial Revolution and the mass migration to the cities. With the birth of the city came the notion of leisure, which has continued to evolve hand-and-hand with technology. We’ve gone from natural forms of entertainment (a walk by the river) to mechanical ones (the amusement park); from actual pyrotechnics (fireworks) to electrical ones (neon signs); from public spectacles (the theater and cinema) to more private and customizable ones (TVs and smartphones).
Each of these phases can be identified with a symbolic object—the stereoscope, the neon tube, the remote control—which epitomizes the way we enjoy the “spectacle” at any given moment in our history. Following this logic, the FuelBand tells us how the audience behaves in these early years of the second millennium: we ourselves have become the spectacle. What could be more on demand?
Newer cities are often built on—and understood as—a grid, and I happen to live in the grid-city par excellence. Perhaps more than anyone else, Manhattanites use the city block as a nearly-scientific unit of measure, with which you could extend past the borough itself and begin to measure the state, the country, the world. Marking each of these blocks are the crosswalk signs whose blinking lights push each pedestrian’s footsteps and heartbeat into a rhythm that syncs him up with the mechanistic consensus of the city. The FuelBand takes this system a step further, so to speak.
Walking the streets of Manhattan, my FuelBand displays the numerical result of the equation between space and the time it takes to cross it—a figure that I am supposed to push forward continuously, all the while staying focused on my object of research and aesthetic contemplation. Namely, myself.
Francesco Spampinato is working on a book about collectives.