According to a
published by Chicago University earlier this year, both texting and
) 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
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: RobertMorris.org
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
) 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
), iPhones, and
) devices of all sizes.
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