Robert Morris and Dan McDuff, Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Ph. D. candidates, believe that overuse of online social networks may be just as unhealthy as smoking cigarettes. To help people break the bad habit, the two created Pavlov Poke, a device that shocks you when you use a particular site too much.
“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,” said Morris. “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).”
Based on recent research, Morris may be right. In a study published in the journal PLoS One, social psychologist Dr. Ethan Kross found that social media — specifically Facebook — made people feel more and more sad as they used it. The heavier the Facebook usage, the less satisfied people were with their lives.
"On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection," said Kross. "But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it."
So maybe Morris and McDuff are onto something. According to Opposing Views, Pavlov Poke monitors the amount of time you’re on a site, and then shocks you when you’ve reached an assigned time limit. The creators say the shock is unpleasant, but not life-threatening. Though Morris and McDuff believe the project was worthwhile, they did say that it was more of a fun project than an actual product. In any case, they do hope that the invention will help to spur more conversation about the role that social media plays in our lives.
“While this whole project is intended to be somewhat of a joke, we believe a serious discussion is needed about how communication technologies are designed,” said Morris.