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Pavlov’s Dog Meets Social Media

Robert Morris and Dan McDuff, Ph.D. students at MIT, noticed they were wasting a combined 50 hours per week on Facebook. Their solution to decreasing excessive usage? Pavlov’s Poke. The apparatus they created shocks users every time they get distracted and wind up on the time-sucking website.

When that method proved to be a bit too electrifying, the two took a different approach: chastisement. They invented a formula that placed a job ad online for someone to phone the Facebook addicts when they were online and berate them. Each castigator earned $1.40 per call.

Slate reports on the motivation behind these quirky tactics:

Hijinks aside, Morris writes that part of the stunt’s intent was to call attention to the addictive qualities of social media. “All too often, people assume they use a given technology because they want to and because it is in their best self-interest. Unfortunately, this assumption does not align with how these technologies are designed. … A product can have incredibly high engagement metrics and yet be extremely bad for its users (cigarettes, for example).”

Whether or not Facebook actually reduces people’s sense of well being, as a recent study claims, Morris is right that its increasing mobile presence makes it harder than ever to resist. That’s why he says he plans to steer clear of Google Glass: “The last thing I want is to have to build a shock device that’s hooked up around my eyeballs.”

Ouch! Let’s hope it doesn’t come to such an extreme form of conditioning.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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