How tech­nol­ogy can shock you into a bet­ter life

Aver­sion ther­apy is back in vogue — and this time it’s gone hi-tech. Caomhan Keane re­ports.

Irish Examiner - - Life / Style -

BE­HAVIOURAL Tech­nol­ogy Group are on a mis­sion. They want to up­grade hu­man­ity. And they hope to do that through three stages. First they want to break us of the bad habits that hold us back.

Then they want to help us form good habits that will make us the best peo­ple that we can be.

Fi­nally, they want to cre­ate new ways to feel sensory in­put so we can be­come bet­ter ver­sions of our­selves.

That’s why, as I type, I’ve a Pavlok on my wrist. It’s a rub­ber wrist­band made by the com­pany, that shoots up to 450 volts into my hand if I flick onto Face­book or Twit­ter dur­ing my work­ing day.

Among the many other habits it claims it can help cure are smok­ing, nail bit­ing, sloth­ful­ness and chronic mas­tur­ba­tion. A self-funded study con­ducted in 2015 with the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts Bos­ton, found that-of the smok­ers who utilised Pavlok for ten min­utes a day, for ten con­tin­u­ous days, 75% were smoke free six months later.

Though the zap lasts only a sec­ond, its sever­ity can be set be­tween 50 volts, which barely reg­is­ters, or 450 volts, which feels like a very pointed pinch. Sensors and apps can trig­ger shocks for cer­tain habits, while you can man­u­ally shock your­self for the rest. It can be linked to your on­line bank ac­count to elec­tro­cute you when­ever you reach, or ex­ceed, your daily/weekly/monthly bud­get. While it can also be set to go off if you hit snooze af­ter your alarm goes off, or don’t per­form a phys­i­cal chal­lenge to prove that you are ac­tu­ally up and at ‘em.

“You’re brain con­sists of your ‘rep­tile’ brain -the basal gan­glia, and your pre-frontal cor­tex, your ‘hu­man’ brain,” says Ma­neesh Sethi, cre­ator of Pavlok, who had the idea for the de­vice when he hired a woman on Craigslist to smack him ev­ery time he used Face­book. “When you de­cide to shock your­self the ‘hu­man’ part of your brain is send­ing a mes­sage to your rep­tile brain, train­ing it to re­ject its pri­mal urges, the same way if you get so drunk on tequila you never want to drink tequila again.”

Me, I’ve de­cided to call time on my toxic re­la­tion­ship with the In­ter­net.

My crav­ings for the prime rib of in­tel­lec­tual dis­course has been spoiled by my in­abil­ity to not douse it in the ketchup of ill-in­formed com­ment, emo­tion-led ar­gu­ments and funny (but only when I con­cur with the po­lit­i­cal lean­ings of the teller) ri­postes.

The in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion of hav­ing some­one like, re-tweet or laugh­ing face emoji my com­ments is cur­dled by my daily flights of rage and right­eous­ness at the dis­gust­ing misog­yny of some of my own sex and the oc­ca­sional self-sat­is­fac­tion of (in this case) the not-so-fair sex.

But mainly I’m tired of be­ing en­veloped by YouTube sink­holes, ris­ing up and suck­ing me into a world of old Bet Lynch videos, Twin Peaks the­o­ries and solo Spice Girl tracks that just have to be watched now!!!

“More than any­thing that’s come be­fore it, the iPhone has be­come an ex­ten­sion of us,” says Jill O’Her­lihy, head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Men­tal Health Ire­land. “It cre­ates a need to up­date peo­ple on what you are do­ing and up­dates you on what they are do­ing. You spend so long up­dat­ing that pic­ture of the per­fect sun­set to in­sta­gram, Twit­ter, Face­book, Snap-chat-find­ing the right fil­ter, the right words, the right an­gle, that — in cap­tur­ing the mo­ment, you miss it.”

“What peo­ple are do­ing is por­tray­ing the per­fect life,” says Jill. “It’s cre­at­ing anx­i­ety around body im­age, a fear of miss­ing out. Peo­ple are com­par­ing them­selves to the lives por­trayed in pic­tures, but what they’re not see­ing is the five min­utes, or the 25 min­utes be­fore hand, where the per­son spent set­ting up the shot.”

Pavlok says that it can cure what ails you within six days. I no­ticed its ef­fect im­me­di­ately. Just feel­ing the rub­ber against my skin and know­ing that I’d have to hurt my­self, how­ever briefly, was enough to ward of the de­sire to Zucker-up. I suc­cess­fully man­aged to ban­ish the ‘book and it’s 140char­ac­ter ri­val to the start and end of my work­ing day, and my turn-over in ar­ti­cles al­most dou­bled in the first week. As well as util­is­ing aver­sion ther­apy — shock­ing you ev­ery time you do or think about your bad habit to cre­ate a sub­con­scious dis­taste to it, Pavlok also has a five-day pro­gram avail­able on the app, which makes you con­scious of when you get your urges, why you in­dulge them and helps you se­lect al­ter­na­tive ac­ti­vates to pre­oc­cupy your­self.

For me, it was less a venue for grat­i­fi­ca­tion, more a place to blow off steam, like a vir­tual ten­nis court where I got to grunt and gurn over pop cul­ture and the tir­ing ubiq­uity with which it is cov­ered. Ev­ery time some idiot wrote that Meryl Streep was the world’s great­est ac­tor or Bey­oncé was this gen­er­a­tion’s Prince I’d steam and whis­tle like a ket­tle con­fronted by its pot neme­sis, loos­ing up to ten min­utes of real life piss­ing into a vir­tual wind.

Ev­ery time my mind went into hi­ber­na­tion I found my hand reach­ing for my ‘con­nec­tion’ to the world, which scram­bled my brain like a di­vert­ing but anx­i­ety trig­ger­ing screen­saver. Had trawl­ing the web not been sec­ond na­ture to me I wouldn’t have been ex­posed to such asi­nine as­sump­tions and I wouldn’t de­velop un­healthy dis­dain for peo­ple I like in real life be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal gulli­bil­ity they ex­press on­line.

How­ever, com­ing off so­cial me­dia comes with a so­cial tax, where per­sonal en­gage­ments, funeral ar­range­ments or even just day-to-day gos­sip is missed out on, lead­ing to a cou­ple of awk­ward faux-pas.

And while Pavlok worked well at keep­ing me off so­cial net­work­ing sites dur­ing the work day, once the week­end came about I sim­ply threw it on my ta­ble and wa­ter boarded my­self in the self-pro­claimed mirth and mis­ery of other peo­ple’s lives, swap­ping one form of self-flag­el­la­tion for an­other.

I might doubt Pavlok’s claims that it can help me go the dis­tance when it comes to not act­ing like a para­noid, delu­sional ex, lurk­ing in the shad­ows of the net and sali­vat­ing like an in­for­ma­tion starved hound, but it did work in the short term.

Dur­ing a stress­ful work pe­riod it blocked envy and avarice from en­ter­ing my day un­til their toll on my thoughts couldn’t af­fect my pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Pavlock Two, just re­leased, helps with habit for­ma­tion, where you earn crypto cur­rency (kind of like Bit­Coin) when you do good habits and which un­locks new apps and cour­ses in the Pavlok store to help im­prove your life. “In Bos­ton, at present, we have a small test group who are in­cen­tivised to help other peo­ple stick to their habits,” says Ma­neesh.

“So, say if you hit your snooze but­ton twice, one of us comes to your house and pulls you out of bed and they will be paid hand­somely from your crypto cur­rency to do this. We hope to have this up and run­ning by this time next year.”

Pic­ture: Áine McDer­mott

Caomhan Keane try­ing out the Pavlok de­vice.

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