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New Device Shocks Facebook Addicts...Literally


"Pavlov Poke" is designed to condition social media addicts so they will no longer need constant digital stimulation.

According to a study published by Chicago University earlier this year, both texting and checking Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter were behaviors that ranked just below sex and sleep as urges that are impossible to resist. That makes texting and social media more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes, or so says the study.

Many a time I've found myself spacing out on Twitter or Facebook, reading comments, waiting for likes or messages to make me feel connected, sucked in by the stimulation of social media. Two PhD candidates from MIT Media Lab, Robert Morris and Daniel McDuff, have decided to open the conversation about this brand-new social media addiction that has, at some point, afflicted many of us. Designed as a borderline joke, the pair built what they call Pavlov Poke, a machine designed to shock computer users every time they exceed an allotted amount of time spent on Facebook or Twitter.
A schematic of Pavlov Poke. Source:

The mild shock is not dangerous but is definitely unpleasant. Morris describes in a blog post how the machine, designed with classical notions of conditioning, has helped reduce his social media addiction. "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....After a few shock exposures, these automatic behaviors seemed completely rewired. I no longer visited the site unless I wanted too...I still visited the site, but I wasn't dragged there by some mysterious Ouija-esque compulsion."

This is not the only method Morris and McDuff have used to fight social media addiction. After creating Pavlov Poke, they created a system that automatically hired crowd-sourced workers from Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Mechanical Turk site to call and berate users who had exceeded set limits on social media. The hired hands would yell at and humiliate those who had signed up for the experimental anti-addiction service. The workers made $1.70 per call.

The addiction-fighting duo believes that social media is becoming only harder to resist. Said Morris, "Unfortunately, as new technologies become more mobile, they become harder and harder to resist. Indeed, the more ubiquitous and accessible the technology, the more addictive it can become."

I often find myself checking Twitter on my phone constantly, on the train, when I eat, while walking up stairs, and the list goes on ad nauseam. Perhaps Morris' and McDuff's Pavlov Poke ought to be less of a joke and conversation starter than an actual tool for helping us temper our compulsion towards social media. And perhaps they ought to build a system for iPads (NASDAQ:AAPL), iPhones, and Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) devices of all sizes.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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