The Pavlov Poke – A Shocking Way to Cure Facebook Addiction

Frustrated by the amount of time they spent on Facebook during workdays, two MIT doctoral candidates have created the Pavlov Poke, a keyboard palm rest that sends electric shocks whenever the user spends too much time on “email, social networking, or other online distractions”.

Robert R. Morris and Dan McDuff are both Ph.D. candidates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but like millions of other internet users out there, they are also social media addicts. After estimating they waste a combined 50 hours a week on Facebook, the two decided to take a new approach to fighting social media addiction by using electroshock therapy to keep users from wasting most of their days on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Named after the well-known Russian psychologist who performed behavioral experiments on dogs, the Pavlov Poke is a keyboard accessory programmed to send electrical shocks into users whenever they spend too much time scrolling through their Facebook news feed or browsing on distracting websites. The shocks are strong enough to make you react, but while they are unpleasant they are not dangerous.


“I would be on Facebook, gorging on pet photos, stuck in some weird hypnotic trance, and it would be minutes or even hours before I realized I had no desire to be there in the first place,” Morris wrote on his blog. “After a few shock exposures, these automatic behaviors seemed completely rewired. I no longer visited the site unless I wanted to…I still visited the site, but I wasn’t dragged there by some mysterious Ouija-esque compulsion.” Despite noticing a “significant reduction” in his personal Facebook use once the device was installed, the Ph. D. candidate adds that the Pavlov Poke was “intended to be a provocative art/design project, rather than a legitimate behavioral intervention.”


“While this project is intended to be a joke, we believe a serious discussion is needed about how communication technologies are designed,” Morris and McDuff write. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Chicago, Facebook and Twitter are more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. There is also increasing evidence to suggest that, over time, Facebook use reduces subjective well-being.


In addition to the shocking Pavlov Poke, Morris and McDuff also came up with a less painful method of curbing Facebook addiction. Taking inspiration from a man who once paid someone to slap him every time he looked at Facebook, the two students designed a system that automatically hires paid crowdworkers to call users on the phone and yell at them whenever they exceed a pre-set time limit online. “If you exceed your Facebook quota, our code automatically posts a job on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. The job is simple – workers call your number and then yell at you, reading from a pre-written script designed to be maximally humiliating,” Morris said. This too was designed as a joke experiment, although they did hire some workers and paid them 1.70 for each call they made while compiling their data.

Source: Pavlov Poke via PC Magazine, Boston Magazine

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