Promoting a gym crime: not wiping down your machine

It’s pretty well established that you’re supposed to wipe down gym equipment after using it.  From Good Life to Gold’s Gym, it’s a widely accepted etiquette rule.  No one wants to sit in another person’s sweat, it’s gross.  And the science backs it up: without diligent cleaning, gyms can become breeding grounds for bacteria, viruses and fungi that are harmful to human health.

Except, here’s my question: why’s the expectation that each person wipe their machine after use, when wiping before is clearly the better system?

In a perfect world where everyone wipes their machines, it doesn’t matter much whether a machine gets wiped before or after.  Either way, no one needs to deal with anyone’s sweat, and everyone can stay infection free.

But in the real world, a person who’s actually concerned about this kind of stuff ends up needing to wipe both before and after.  Before because they usually have no idea whether or not the person who last used the machine wiped it afterwards.  And then again after to be a good citizen.  This leads many machines to get double wiped for no reason.  Conversely, if you have some misplaced confidence in humanity that everyone else is diligently wiping down their machines after use, you expose yourself to other people’s sweat many a time.

In the system where you wipe before, this problem goes away.  Everyone who cares wipes their machines down before use and stays clean.  And for the people that don’t follow the etiquette, it’s them that end up “contaminated”, not someone else.  It’s simple incentivization: more people will follow a rule when it will benefit them than when it will benefit someone else.  Especially in a rule as unenforced as wiping down machines.

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