Metro, Business, Featured Story

How A New Device Can Help You Stay Off Facebook

Pavlok Uses Small Electric Shocks And Beeping Noises To Help Users Break Bad Habits

Imagine being so determined to boost your own productivity that you hire someone from Craigslist to slap you every time you tried to go on Facebook.

Maneesh Sethi, co-founder of Pavlok, did exactly that when he noticed a drop in his productivity due to distractions like Facebook. He hired a girl from Craigslist who slapped his face whenever he went on Facebook in an effort to condition himself to stay off the site while he worked. During this experiment, Sethi calculated he quadrupled his productivity.

“Most people will sit down at their computer, and without even thinking about it, go on Facebook, and then they’re just there,” said Chris Schelzi, Pavlok’s public relations director. “No one wants to go to Facebook, they just find themselves there.”

To alleviate problems with distraction, Sethi and a friend originally started out by reverse-engineering a dog’s shock collar, linking it to a Google Chrome extension that would cause it to shock him whenever he visited Facebook. This invention became Pavlok, a quarter-sized device worn on the wrist.

Pavlok can connect to either Apple or Android phones via Bluetooth, and has the ability to sync with various apps. Using features of the smartphone, such as its GPS or accelerometer, Pavlok knows whether the user’s goals have been completed or whether sites like Facebook are distracting them. If the user fails to complete their goals or they visit Facebook, Pavlok alerts the wearer in a number of ways—such as issuing a shock or beeping at you—depending on the user’s programming.

“It doesn’t automatically go to the shock,  depending on how it’s programmed,” Schelzi said. “It can start with vibrating, then going into beeping, then you get the shock.”

Now, Sethi is looking to introduce adhesive patches that will streamline Pavlok and allow it to run discreetly in the background.

Sethi boasts an impressive resume—he is a Stanford University graduate, author of four bestselling computer programming books, creator of a non-governmental organization (NGO) in India that helps connect children with technology, and became a famous DJ in Berlin in 90 days. Sethi also runs a blog called Hack the System where he collects and posts unconventional ways to “hack” day-to-day activities in an effort to help people earn more money, become more productive, and live better. What started out as a fun blog post documenting his discoveries quickly turned into a business idea that may help people to change their habits and behaviors for the better.

The psychological research used to develop Pavlok goes beyond Ivan Pavlov’s original conditional behavior experiments. In addition to a 300-person trial that Sethi conducted using the followers of his blog, the developers looked into an aversion therapy study done by the Schick-Shadel Treatment Center, which helped smokers quit their addiction. Smokers in the program would shock themselves with a nine-volt battery every time they caught themselves smoking over a four-week period. The trial found that there was an initial success rate of 95 percent and a continual success rate of 50 percent one year later.

Though not the same as smoking, Pavlok’s founders made the connection between the addiction of smoking and lack of productivity due to Facebook.

“Once you do it a couple times, your brain starts to make the connection between the painful stimulant and the act of going on Facebook,” Schelzi said.

Pavlok was designed to help people with their motivation, accountability, and productivity, whether it is people looking to start a new fitness regime or students trying to get their papers in on time. Even if someone completely pre-commits to their task it becomes a completely different story once the task is underway. It’s what is commonly referred to in psychology as the “hot-cold empathy gap.” In the pre-commitment or cold stage, a person believes they will be able to put 100 percent of their cognitive ability toward their task. However, once they take action and enter the hot stage, it becomes much harder to accomplish.

“With Pavlok, you make the transition to actually committing during the cold state,” Schelzi said. “It allows you to much easier execute.”

Pavlok also has a social aspect that brings real accountability to its users through negative and positive reinforcements. Users can either join entire communities that are focused on the same goals or can create a group with their friends. For each task, all the users can pledge some amount of money to a communal pot. Those who fail to complete their task lose their money, and it is distributed evenly among those who do complete the task. In all its aspects and features, Sethi is focused on making sure Pavlok boosts users’ motivation.

What Pavlok really boils down to is breaking the bad habits everyone has subconsciously and replacing them with good habits. Using electricity. In the end though, it’s not even about the shock—it’s about understanding involuntary habits.

“It’s less about the shock than it is about bringing awareness to your behavior, because much of what we do are these things that we do automatically,” Schelzi said.

Featured Image Courtesy of Pavlok

October 22, 2014

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