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Pavlov Poke

Hopelessly addicted to email, social networking, or other online distractions?
Robert R. Morris and Dan McDuff created Pavlov Poke to wean themselves off Facebook and finish their dissertations.

How does it work?

The design is simple. There are four important components:

schematic of the Pavlov Poke invention

Wait! Shocks Not Creepy Enough For You?

How about having a total stranger call you up and yell at you?

To our knowledge, this is the first system ever designed to prank call yourself! And its pretty easy to build. All you need is:

description of system to prank call yourself


While this project is intended to be a joke, we believe a serious discussion is needed about how communication technologies are designed.

Technologies like Facebook are addictive by design. According to comScore, Facebook users spend an average of 400 minutes per month on the site. A recent study from the University of Chicago suggests that Facebook and Twitter are more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. 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.

All too often, people assume they use a given technology because they want to and because it is in their best self-interest. Unfortunately, this assumption does not align with how these technologies are designed. Sites like Facebook are crafted on the basis of something called engagement metrics, which measure the number of daily active users, the time people spend on the site, etc. Unfortunately, these metrics are not designed to assess well-being. A product can have incredibly high engagement metrics, and yet be extremely bad for its users (cigarettes, for example).

One approach is to build devices like 'Pavlov Poke' to help eliminate the online habits we already have. Another, perhaps more enduring approach, is to change the norms around how technologies are adopted. If a technology appears especially sticky, users should proceed with caution and take pains to assess how the technology affects their mood over time. New innovations around experience sampling could help facilitate this form of affective self-discovery.

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. This is why Facebook built Facebook Home. This is why extra caution should be given to technologies built for devices like Google Glass. Personally, I don't want to try Glass until I know I can manage its potentially addictive properties. The last thing I want is to have to build a shock device that's hooked up around my eyeballs. Eek!




We have been overwhelmed by the popularity of Pavlov Poke - here are a few of our favorite reports: