Shocker: MIT students try to cure Facebook addiction with electrodes, angry calls

Two MIT Ph.D. students from the school’s Media Lab have posted the results of a recent experiment, which brings Pavlov’s dogs into the modern age by electrocuting users who spent too much time on Facebook. Then they looked for less painful solutions.

Dubbing it the “Pavlov Poke,’’ the setup worked like this:

— An application monitors what web pages they were browsing, taking note of how much time was being spent on Facebook.

— A keyboard wrist rest sends an electric shock when excessive Facebook usage was detected.

Will it cure the socially addicted? Tough to say.

“Sadly, we found the shocks so aversive, we removed the device pretty quickly after installing it,’’ wrote Robert R. Morris. “Anecdotally, however, I did notice a significant, though temporary, reduction in my Facebook usage.’’


The researchers then switched from physical to emotional triggers, using Amazon Mechanical Turk to build a verbal harassment-as-a-service tool that calls up the overly distracted Facebooker.

The experiments were created with a light-hearted attitude, but the researchers wrote that there is a serious point that they are trying to make.

“Technologies like Facebook are addictive by design,’’ they note on their project page. “Further, there is increasing evidence to suggest that, over time, Facebook use reduces subjective well-being. Would you still use Facebook if you knew it made you unhappy? Probably, if you’re addicted to it.’’

Their research — here and elsewhere — is about helping establish healthier norms when it comes to how we interact online and off. Hopefully, no shocks required.

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