Spend too much time on social media? Weaponize your keyboard to shock you

If you are concerned about NSA surveillance, but you are so addicted to being online that you can’t stop playing on social media sites, then perhaps you need to take drastic measures such as have your keyboard deliver a “mild (but still quite painful) shock” every time you visit your favorite social networking site?

MIT PhD students Dan McDuff and Robert R. Morris argue that “Technologies like Facebook are addictive by design.” The duo would know, since they waste over 50 hours a week on Facebook. In fact, they quoted a University of Chicago study that found “Facebook and Twitter are more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.” So together they created a Pavlov Poke conditioning technique to help break some of their more addictive online habits.

Morris explained in the video that “Pavlov Poke is a keyboard accessory that shocks you anytime you overindulge in online distractions.” McDuff described the shock as “unpleasant” but “not dangerous.” Their design used Mac UI inspector to monitor application usage and an Arduino connected to a stick of shocking gum. “Shocksweeper” delivers a “mild shock lasting roughly 160 milliseconds.”

But hey, if that creepy twist on a Pavlovian classical conditioning technique isn’t enough to stop your online addictions, then you could have a “total stranger call you up and yell at you” every time you visit the offending site. To accomplish this, Morris and McDuff setup a “phone hit” on Mechanical Turk. Every time they surf to Facebook, they receive a shocking jolt and then receive a phone call in which the person uses their “angry voice” to say, “What are you doing? You've been using Facebook again! I can't believe you would do this! Consider this a warning. Goodbye!”

Although they did need to “wean themselves off Facebook and finish their dissertations,” they also admitted this was “meant to be somewhat of joke.” In the Pavlov Poke FAQ:

Can I hook this up to my kids so they stop using the computer all day?

Yikes. Please don't. Also - this isn't a real product at the moment. This is intended to be a provactive art/design project, rather than a legitimate behavioral intervention. 

Joke or not, they believe there needs to be a “serious discussion” about how communication technologies are addictive by design.

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. This is why Facebook built Facebook Home. This is why extra caution should be given to technologies built for devices like Google Glass. 

If you want to limit the time you spend emailing or surfing social networking sites, so Big Brother has fewer of your online activities to spy on, then weaponize your keyboard to shock you, plus pay a Mechanical Turk worker a $1.40 to call and yell at you. If you waste time on social media while at work, then you probably hope your boss doesn’t hear about and implement the Pavlov Poke.

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