facetrapJust how badly do you want to stop checking Facebook? Are you motivated by pain? Then click to like MIT students Robert R Morris and Dan McDuff, creators of the ultimate solution for social-media addiction: Pavlov Poke. An electrical-charge output is connected to your computer keyboard, and an online app monitors your web browsing. Spend too much time on Facebook and zap! – you get a shock. To quote the cheeky promotional video, the dose of voltage “is unpleasant but not dangerous.”

Physiologist Ivan Pavlov would be proud. “A Clockwork Orange was a big influence for sure,” Morris says. “I’m also partial to the shockresponse opening scene of Ghostbusters.” Morris and McDuff’s experiment may be the extreme measure we need to curb our online use. We spend a quarter of our time online putzing around social media, and that number is rapidly going up. Other studies argue that social-media responses light up the same areas of our brain as drugs and alcohol despite being psychological, not physical, stimuli.

Another sign of the times: The Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania just opened America’s first hospital-based internet-addiction clinic. The 10-day stint includes extensive multimedia detox and psychiatric evaluations. The rub: Internet addiction isn’t yet acknowledged by the notoriously slow American Psychiatric Association. The $14,000 cost comes out of your pocket. Morris, who is finishing a PhD in affective computing – zap! – says Facebook uses “supernormal stimuli” to keep us addicted. “Candy bars are a great example. They offer tons of sugar and salt – things our bodies were evolved to crave – but they’re delivered in a way that goes far beyond what we’d ever find in nature. Similarly, Facebook exploits our natural desires for social approval and validation, but it does so in a highly exaggerated, unnatural way. In real life, unless you’re a celebrity, people aren’t going to compliment you for every little thing you do. But now there’s an app for that.”

He’s surprised so many people are asking for the device, but he and McDuff have no plans to sell it. “There seems to be legitimate demand for this product,” he says. “This suggests that Facebook is more addictive than we thought, or that people are more masochistic than we ever imagined.”

by Damon Brown

Published in Playboy South Africa May 2014