How to Psych Yourself Out of Online Distractions

The extreme way two MIT students are breaking their Facebook addiction

Written by Mira Shenker

Hopelessly addicted to email, social networking, or other online distractions? Meet MIT Phd candidates Robert R. Morris and Dan McDuff. Combined, they waste 50 hours a week on Facebook, a distraction they say was making it hard to finish their dissertations. So they created their own solution to wean themselves off Facebook: the Pavlov Poke.

The Poke works off of four components. It uses Mac’s UI Inspector to monitor computer app usage. Processing code monitors your browsing history and when a distracting site is visited too frequently, a processing script produces an on-screen alert. An Arduino is connected via USB to the computer to activate a relay and start a shock circuit. The coup de gras: conductive metal strips are placed on the keypad so that when the Arduino relay is triggered, a current is sent through the strips and through palm of your hand. And there you have it: you are now Pavlov’s dog (if the dog had a real problem staying off Facebook).

The students aren’t selling this device (hence the tutorial on how to build your own shock circuit. They started this as a way to open up a broader discussion about the way communication technologies are designed. Sites like Facebook are addictive by design, argue Morris and McDuff, citing a recent study that suggests Facebook and Twitter are more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. On top of that, research shows that over time, Facebook use reduces subjective well-being. “Would you still use Facebook if you knew it made you unhappy?” ask Morris and McDuff. “Probably, if you’re addicted to it.”


Why We’re Addicted to Email

How to Control Check-In Addiction

The True Cost of Interruptions

Watch the Pavlov Poke in action

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