Too much time on Facebook? Give yourself an electric shock

The Pavlov Poke is an invention that shocks you into getting off the Web. It may be the only way.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read
We are but dogs. Robert R. Morris/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You're weak. And your biggest weakness is yourself.

You indulge obsessive habits. You spend a dozen hours a day on the Web, searching for what you're missing out on while you're spending a dozen hours a day on the Web.

You tell yourself that you can't help yourself. I am telling you that now you can.

For here is a device that will jolt you away from Facebook by giving you an electric shock. Yes, this is jolt by the volt.

Called the Pavlov Poke, this device was invented by Robert Morris and Dan McDuff. They claimed to waste a combined 50 hours a week on Facebook and determined to do something about it.

Fortunately, they are two PhD students at MIT, so they were in a position to use the strengths of their skills to combat the weakness in their gills.

In the promotional video I've embedded, their acting skills might use a little nuancing. However, they insist their tale is real.

The Pavlov Poke is, quite simply, a little accessory for your keyboard that pokes you into withdrawing from it, if you've been Web bound too long.

It is less a poke and more of an electric shock.

"It monitors application usage, and if you spend too much time on a particular Web site or application, it will give you a shock," explained McDuff.

He describes the shock as "unpleasant," but not dangerous.

Sadly, there appear to be no plans to launch the Pavlov Poke commercially. Morris admits the invention is something of a joke.

Some might wonder whether our habits are no so ingrained that even a shock won't work on us.

Morris told TechCrunch: "To be truly effective, many shock exposures are probably needed. Proper conditioning procedures should be followed. Sadly, we found the shocks so aversive, we removed the device pretty quickly after installing it. Anecdotally, however, I did notice a significant, though temporary, reduction in my Facebook usage."

If this doesn't work, what will? Can one imagine Apple creating computers that only work eight hours a day? Can one imagine Microsoft creating software that automatically shuts down with a certain number of hours of usage?

Right now, it seems that we are mere animals, open to a better form of conditioning, if only we can find it.