Would Pavlov Approve?
August 24, 2013 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Spend too much time on Facebook? Shocking and shaming new help now available!

Two MIT PhD candidates wasted approximately 50 hours a week on Facebook. They decided social media's grip on them was too strong to break on their own, so they shocked themselves each time they spent too much time on the site and paid random strangers $1.40 to call them and yell at them for being on Facebook too long.
posted by tafetta, darling! (14 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does this service come in "MetaFilter"?
posted by figurant at 8:37 PM on August 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

An interesting other side to the machine zone.

I think this is going to be a further area of study. There are all kinds of blocking apps out there to try to break habits, and I don't think they're strong enough or using the right kind of psychology to tear users away.
posted by hellojed at 9:03 PM on August 24, 2013

The problem with blocking apps, he said while continuing his check Facebook/play Skyrim weekend routine, is that they make no distinction between the utility or function of a web site and the bad habits they create. For instance, I find there is value in being able to converse with intelligent Internet strangers, and a certain value also in being recommended things to read, so I look at MetaFilter. Past a point, I am using MetaFilter to a detrimental extent, or worse I start lowering my standards and surfing Reddit (which totally doesn't happen at least five times every day-slash-hour), but to completely cut a thing off is to cut off also the part which is actually useful and good.

The result of this is that, every time I've installed a blocker app, it's ended up completely thrown away after a couple of days. Ditto blocking my web browser on my phone, which I do often, and a bunch of other, more extreme measures I've devised. At some point there exists a scenario in which using a thing is worthwhile; the problem is how terrible we are at determining what point that is exactly. And the more we use something, the more it seems to us that this thing is worth using more.

In some cases, I've found that sites themselves offer filtering mechanisms that are extremely useful. I simply don't post links to Facebook, and I don't follow anybody on my newsfeed. I somebody tags me in a thing, I will see it. If I want to send somebody a message, I can. Those two functions are the core use of Facebook anyway, and neither one is that addicting. Twitter provides its own wonderful limitations, though as with Facebook's newsfeed if I follow more than a couple dozen people at a time I start to get overwhelmed. MetaFilter, thank god, is too small for my spamming the refresh button to do any good at all—though if I don't check the site for a few days, I'll inevitably spend three hours binging on missed contentious threads.

Other things are more difficult to figure out. The question that's been intriguing me for at least a year now is, can you create something that functions as mindless entertainment but also knows how to flip a switch in you that gets you off the cycle? Things like Reddit or Skyrim or CBS's Sherlock are all satisfyingly unengaging but pleasing, not too challenging but not entirely brain-kaput either. I find that if I indulge in any one of them for too long I get caught in a do-nothing groove, where I seek out actions that will keep me satisfied with my tedious splurging. (Today I baked a tray of Parmesan-cheese crackers, mmm!)

A part of me worries that there is no redeeming value to that kind of shut-off time, but I don't believe that's true. Relaxation and leisure is a wonderful, necessary thing. But now we have modes of leisure that are so much more encompassing than what we had before – I mean, even more so than TV surfing was a few decades ago, and that was alarmingly addictive – that the frequency which I and most of my acquaintances find themselves sinking days and days into pointless activities strikes me as somewhat alarming. I can't bring myself to be okay with just how much time is spent pissing into the void.

So what I wonder is, are there ways of crafting entertainment that won't seemingly demand endless investments of time and attention? Shows that are more satisfying watched as individual episodes than they are splurged? Web sites which reward your sparse attention, but still satisfy your need for brain-shut when that need in fact arises? Games that are engaging without becoming addictive?

I can't think of too many examples of things that do this, but I feel it's a worthwhile thing to pursue. In the meantime, we're forced to be responsible (ugh) and self-policing (urk!) so that we can, like, have lives and do things and shit. I feel that as younger and younger people grow up with this idea that such timesinks are normal and the status quo, the power of said sinks grows immensely. Maybe that leads to us forming a culture of leisure and laid-back-ness where it's understood that four hours of work a day can still be enormously productive. Maybe we find ways to gamify labor that're a little bit less pathetic than the attempts that exist today. Maybe society just collapses. Who knows?

In the meantime I will continue my masterfully self-destructive plot to keep lowering my notion of what "productivity" means. My slacker daisy chain shall keep lengthening: if I can find it in me to turn off Skyrim, then maybe I can catch up on that Fifty Shades of Grey recap, and then I'll read that YA novel, and then maybe give that new critically acclaimed TV show a try, or if I finish that there's classic cinema to explore, and after that maybe I'll think about tinkering around with one of my projects or even calling a friend or some oops it's one in the morning, another long and grueling day, I didn't even get around to buying food for myself! Maybe I'll buy another thing of Parmesan cheese tomorrow morning, that oughta last me a few more days at least.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:08 PM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

working as designed

Newsweek magazine circa 1996 is very concerned about these 2 "online addicts"

in the time it took you to read this, you may have missed updates
posted by thelonius at 10:28 PM on August 24, 2013

Does this service come in "MetaFilter"?

I'll do it for free.
posted by sidereal at 3:46 AM on August 25, 2013

Man, those yelling strangers totally did not do an effective job. I am super sensitive to yelling, and they just made me laugh. It was too clear that they were really amused!
posted by cairdeas at 3:47 AM on August 25, 2013

Man, I must be doing Facebook wrong (right?) because I can't for the life of me figure out how you could spend 50 hours a week on it.
posted by dry white toast at 6:13 AM on August 25, 2013

Hopefully that was their combined time waste, but even then...
posted by cairdeas at 6:15 AM on August 25, 2013

This strikes me as the "antibuse" of social media. As mentioned above, a simple uninstall will do the trick to get you back in.

That said, I am grateful for Metafilter. A while back, I uninstalled the FB app on my phone, and I think I've been on facebook three times in the last six months.

I have noticed my Metafilter reading has tripled, so perhaps its just replacing one for the other, but considering the actual quality of content on MeFi vs. the drivel in my news feed (which I am just as guilty of contributing to) even if I'm spending the same amount of time on MeFi that I would have put into FB, at least I'm learning stuff.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:36 AM on August 25, 2013

Something that requires you to get up and look somewhere else for 5 minutes after 10m on an addictive site would probably be useful without being so drastic. (Accelerometer?)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:38 PM on August 25, 2013

How do I get the job of calling people and yelling at them?
posted by Jacqueline at 1:15 PM on August 25, 2013

Mechanical Turk, apparently!
posted by en forme de poire at 1:07 AM on August 26, 2013

I always thought the lure of the time sink Internet is that so many people are completely alienated from thier labor, most of which could probobly be stand to be automated and the office workers of the first world are in this strange balancing act of pretending to work while thier bosses pretend the work has to be done.
posted by The Whelk at 4:48 AM on August 26, 2013

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