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.
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.”
Caomhan Keane trying out the Pavlok device.