Shapely Prose Tent Revival: Please do not literally torture yourself, ever

Gather round, Awkward Army, and join me, Sweet Machine, for a Shapely Prose Tent Revival!

This Way to the Holy Ghost Revival
(photo by Trey Ratcliff)

The occasion of our glorious gathering is the existence of the Pavlok wearable fitness tracker, described by the Telegraph as a device “which gives the wearer an electric shock if they fail to meet their daily exercise targets” and by the incomparable Lindy West as “like a Saw movie and/or dystopian nightmare in which thigh gaps have become the global currency.” Here’s the idea: you set some daily goal (which the Pavlok site suggests might also be something like writing 1,000 words or going to sleep on time, but let’s be real — they mean exercise), and if you do not meet your goal, the device will zap you like you are some kind of lab rat. I know what you’re thinking: a brief electric shock is just what I need to get sleepy for a responsible bedtime! (No. This is not what you’re thinking.)

I have so much to say about this method of fitness-by-torture that I could literally write all day and not finish. This post would grow and grow, my endless anger at the world that constructs beauty ideals so toxic that this seems reasonable to anyone spilling over until it takes over the whole site, breaking the tent poles and all. I will not do this thing. I will use my ability to control my own body and brain in this small manner. I will do this because I am in fact not a lab rat but a human being with autonomy and free will, and I don’t need to fucking strap a torture device to my wrist to be the kind of human I want to be.

This is not the first time I’ve written about efforts to introduce torture into weight loss. This idea makes a certain kind of insidious sense, if you buy into the notion that being fat is a moral failing of individual persons (an idea, btw, that transparently is at odds with the idea that we’re in the middle of an “obesity epidemic,” but who says logic has anything to do with fat-shaming?). If you think that fat people are fat because they are constitutionally incapable of eating less or exercising more, and that “calories in < calories out” is a method that will always lead to thinness, then the idea of torturing fat people just a little bit for their own good sounds pretty effective. I mean, sure, it’s unpleasant, but it will work, and that’s more important, right?

Look, it’s true that habits are hard to establish and hard to break. Gamifying your life is an intriguing possibility that uses rewards and punishments to provide external motivation for behavioral changes, and sometimes that works: it can be very very hard to overcome your internal inertia to do something good for yourself, especially if you are prone to depression. Personally, I have become worlds more likely to do the dishes and to write every day since I started using HabitRPG, a free site where I can set my own rewards for good behavior and also have a red panda cartoon companion level up with me. It’s just a little extra boost of motivation each day: if I draft a new poem, I am a tiny bit closer to buying a new dress from Ureshii. There are lots of ways to trick yourself into performing more self-care — including enjoyable exercise as self-care! — that are about building you up rather than breaking you down. Because you know what is not that likely to make you overcome self-loathing-based inertia and go for a jog? STRAPPING A PAIN MACHINE TO YOUR BODY.

This unholy child of Pavlov and Milgram is the logical extension of a fat-shaming culture. Not only are you supposed to volunteer to torture yourself, but you’re also supposed to spend money for the privilege. Make no mistake, Awkwardeers: this is part and parcel of the massive beauty and weight loss industries that sell you the idea that there is something disgusting about your body and then sell you products to fix it, thus reifying the disgust by making it real for you even if it’s not for anyone else.

You are not disgusting. You do not deserve to be tortured. You would not torture someone else, because you are not a torturer. You are a human being with as much worth as every other human being on the planet. You are made out of atoms that were ejected by supernovae when the universe was young. You are a fucking miracle.

Thus ends the lesson. Here begins the dance party!

84 thoughts on “Shapely Prose Tent Revival: Please do not literally torture yourself, ever

  1. Hi, all, long-time reader/lurker, first-time commenter. I just wanted to say that this especially enrages me after seeing article after article after photo come across my dash featuring average-weight-looking women (who I personally think are beautiful) being described as “plus-sized” in the captions. No wonder there’s such an outbreak of unhealthy body images – people don’t even know what average weight looks like! Rawr.

      1. Yep. I get catalogs for companies that shall remain unnamed that cater to plus-size women. All the catalogs except for one use relatively slim models for most of the clothing. The few pieces I’ve ordered from them have looked quite different from the items worn by the models. (The clothing is wearable, but the different proportions result in a much different look to the garments.)

  2. First observation: I think I understand the etymology of the name but I keep misreading it as Pavlik, which is a harness to hold babies’ legs in the frog position to treat congenital dislocation/dysplasia of the hips.

    Second observation: given current trends, how long until someone tries to mandate that fat people be subjected to this disgusting bullshit? Whether in order to qualify for jobseeking/disability benefits, health care, or just the right to fucking exist? Ugh.

    Sweet Machine, thank you for this.

  3. I looked at the title of this post and thought “yep, this post is going to make me cry a bunch.” But that’s ok! Because that just means this is something I still need to hear until I can believe it all the time, not just on good days.
    Thanks. ❤

  4. At first I did think this was something I might be interested in trying (not for exercising, my reward for working out to be a healthier more active person and working really hard to ignore my weight is beer… the next day, cuz if I consume “heavy” food items post workout I vomit) but for maintaining a writing word count, getting the laundry done, conquering the horror that is handwashing dishes… then I remembered that I cry if I have to use an alarm that is anything more than a phone vibration because waking up to sudden sounds is so scary and upsetting to me I will not sleep the night before to avoid being surprised. I figure if that’s my reaction to ALARM CLOCKS then maybe a zapping machine would be the least helpful thing for my stress level.

  5. I dunno, I can absolutely see why this would be awful for a lot of people, and I can see how easily it taps into cultural fat-hate, but I think this might actually work well for some people because it would function as replacing really awful mental self-punishment with comparatively minor physical pain. It would be great if I could simply turn off mental self-punishment, but it isn’t always possible to do that in a world that encourages it from every turn. But with this, if I was starting to feel guilty about skipping whatever I’d wanted to get done, I could just say to myself, “You know, I’ve already paid (with the shock) so I can just rest easy about it now.” I’d rather experience a little pain than a lot of self-hatred any day, and this might actually let you short-circuit that self-hatred.

    1. “It would function as replacing really awful mental self-punishment with comparatively minor physical pain.”

      This is exactly the logic that lead me into self-harm. It worked. It was also addictive. I suggest people do not go there.

    2. Well, controlled pain in the confines of a 100% respectful and joyfully participatory relationship can help some people feel better about themselves if they’re built that way, as I have personal cause to know. But holy crow, NOT THIS.

      1) You have no safe word with this device.
      2) You have no respect with this device.
      3) You have no joy with this device.
      4) This device is a stick with no carrot.
      5) This device is trying to get you to change your body and teach you you’re a piece of crap who deserves physical harm if you don’t.
      6) NO NO NO NO NO

  6. Omg omg omg, Shapely Pose is back squeeeeeeee!!11!

    [okay, breathe]

    Thank you for this, Sweet Machine. I just have one question, for you or anyone else in the commentariat who can help me logic:

    I’m curious about this statement:

    “the notion that being fat is a moral failing of individual persons (an idea, btw, that transparently is at odds with the idea that we’re in the middle of an “obesity epidemic,” but who says logic has anything to do with fat-shaming?)”

    I fart in the general directions of both the OOGA BOOGA OBESITY EPIDEMIC and the FAT IS A MORAL FAILING arguments. But I don’t necessarily see how they’re at odds? I unfortunately have people in my life who believe both of these things, and their argument is that there’s an epidemic of loss of morals, kind of the obesity version of Faux News’ whole schtick (kids these days with their music and their baggy pants and their WHOLE CAKES!). I disagree wholeheartedly, but I don’t see them being transparently at odds? Is my logic-ing broken today? Thanks!

    1. Hi hi hi! GIANT SP HUGS

      I see what you mean about the “epidemic of loss of morals” — that was not what I was thinking when I wrote the part you quoted. I was thinking of the more literal use of “epidemic”: the idea that there is a physical illness that is reaching mass populations (for reasons that, in this case, are not yet known). You’re right, I think, that in the figurative sense those two ideas are not contradictory. But if you are, say, committed to an idea that there is a systemic problem with obesity OOGA BOOGA, then you simply cannot also say “but it’s up to the individual.” Unfortunately, a lot of “experts” do walk that line a lot — think about all those articles/interviews/whatever where a researcher will say “We really don’t know what causes this but it’s clearly a generational difference and maybe it’s related to [obesogenic environments/antibiotics/corn subsidies/wevs]… but that doesn’t give you a license to eat baby donuts all day!” If part 1 of that statement is to be taken seriously, then part 2 is just hand-waving. If part 2 is true, then the epidemic is a Fox News one, as you say — an epidemic of moral failure — and part 1 is irrelevant.

      Does that clarify?

  7. Thanks for this. I can’t quite think of anything to say about the shock machine because it still seems so unreal to me. It just really goes too far. I have to wonder how its inventor will feel when they look back on their life. Are they really going to be glad they spent so much energy and time trying to make people feel bad?

    (By the way, if HabitRPG contains red pandas, I’m in.)

        1. oh god I love the skeletal cacti so much. Also the zombie cacti.

          Although I should note to Jessica that here “red panda” = “ordinary panda coloured red” and not the actual separate species of red panda.

        2. And DESERT OCTOPI! Because that makes sense. 😉

          I do actually find that the loss of HP works the way a said talks about above — losing internet points is a useful way to shut up the brain-weasels when they insist that I am a Horrible Person for not doing the dishes. Look, anxiety-brain, I have already been suitably penalized. Now we will go do useful things and win internet points.

          But a critical difference here is that the penalty doesn’t involve *actual pain*. And it involves carrots along with the sticks. I have complete control over what my character “loses health” for and can turn it off entirely if I’m feeling sick/overwhelmed/whatever.

  8. I know an article about a fat person torture decide shouldn’t make me so happy, but it does. PREACH!

    Besides being appalled, I really have a lot of questions about the effectiveness/methodology behind this thing. Like, I could see if it was a thing that shocked you every time you took the elevator instead of the stairs. (As in I could see myself ripping it off and jumping up and down on it and then having a flash mob of fat people just so we could all jump up and down on it.) But y’know if you don’t manage 1000 steps in one day, when exactly is it going to punish you for that? Before bedtime? Because that’s not really how behavioral conditioning en manner of pavlov works?

    I fear all of these fitness tracker things.. I actually give a shit about my fitness and have activities I love right now, and I am afraid that if I tried to “Track” and “Measure” it, I would either become an insane person who exercises too much, or, the much more likely option is that I would COMPLETELY STOP GIVING A SHIT AT ALL. (It’s like the opposite of a trigger, like an un trigger, a sign of my contrary nature. It triggers my FUCK YOU response.)

    I might try habitrpg though, that looks fun!!

    1. Yeah, I was wondering about that too. It seems like the more scientific application would be something along the lines of zapping you if you go below a certain speed during your jog. But if you did that to an animal it’d rightfully be considered torture, so why the eff would you do that to yourself? You might run faster, but pain does not promote well-being.

      1. I have a thing that tells me if I go below a certain speed while I’m running. Only, it’s a GPS, and it beeps unhappy sounds at me when I slow down. It doesn’t hurt me, only reminds me. And it does keep me going at the right pace, because I want to, it just tells me what the right pace *is*. (By which I mean, I told it I want to run at this pace, and it tells me if I’m actually doing so. It doesn’t decide what the right pace is.)

        1. Yes, this! I have a FitBit, which flashes and buzzes happily when I reach my daily exercise goal, and I could see it also being useful for it to buzz or blink if I exceeded or went below a target speed during a set exercise session (it’s not actually that smart, but the technology I’m sure exists). Again, NOT ACTUALLY PAIN.

          1. I read CA posts as a reward for doing such and such amount of homework. Works pretty well, until it’s after bedtime and I am too tired to resist. And if I don’t finish homework such that I can read CA posts, there’s always tomorrow to read that post!

    2. I was wondering this very thing. It’s off the point of whether we should physically punish ourselves for not meeting some goal (answer: no), but how does it even know if you haven’t met your goal by the appointed time?

      Come to think of it, B. F. Skinner would object to this nonsense on two accounts. The first is the one shinobi42 brought up: if the reward/punishment isn’t paired with the relevant behavior immediately, that’s not effective operant conditioning. The second is, punishment isn’t nearly as effective at changing behavior as reward is.

      This isn’t new information. Skinner was doing his experiments in 1948. Whoever sells this thing is either ignorant or happy to make money off of a device whose only real purpose can be shame.

  9. A long while ago, I used a tool called “Write or Die” for my storywriting. You could set a word count goal, a time limit, and an ‘intensity’ setting for length of time you stopped writing–the screen would slowly turn red, and after a short time it would give a popup warning, or play a shrill sound. At the hardest setting, it would *actually start erasing backwards word by word.* I never used anything worse than the popup. Also, you ‘failed’ if you didn’t write that amount of words in the allotted time.

    It worked very well for getting bulk writing done, but the more I used it, the more I lost motivation to actually *start* (which was a much bigger obstacle). Negative reinforcement doesn’t motivate for shit. It deters. I don’t need a deterrent for things that are already difficult enough, and I can’t imagine how much worse it would be with the fear of an electric shock. I foresee lots of using this thing once or twice and never putting it on again.

    So, to the creators and sellers of this: fornicate the lot of you, and I hereby withdraw to my place of residence.

    1. Nezdragon, have you seen Written?Kitten! ? gives you a kitten (or a puppy, or a bunny, or a dinosaur…) every 100 words. It’s like surfing the internet for kitten pictures, but you can get some writing done as well.

      1. I did for a good while, and it was a far better experience. Then life happened and I was too sad at losing 200 days or whatever to try again. Kittens are good, though, I may have to try kittens!

    2. I have some friends who swear by Write or Die, find it very useful, and have been using it for quite a while. I am completely baffled by this, but it works for them, so for their sake I’m glad it exists.

      I tried it once and it made my brain lock up. NEVER. AGAIN.

    3. For me, the problem with Write or Die is that a lot of what I write with it is unusable garbage that I end up completely deleting later because I can’t stop and think about my words before I continue. What I need is a program that makes it impossible to use my computer for anything but writing for a set amount of time — like, that program takes over completely and doesn’t relinquish control until the timer runs out. You don’t have to write the whole time — in fact, you could sit there staring at the screen for the entire amount of time if you wanted — but you would have to be sitting there *looking* at your work (and hopefully, therefore, thinking about it) for the full amount of time. I bet that’s all I’d need to get going, ’cause my problem with writing is that I’ll pull up the right window for a grand total of ten seconds and then I’ll be off on tumblr or something.

  10. this torture device is horrible. NO. I don’t even have a word giant enough for the awfulness.
    HabitRPG, however, is fun! yay!

  11. I have a feeling this is going to be used far more for BDSM than for its supposed intended purpose. I’m actually suspecting that the “torture fat people” thing is a cover to get a BDSM device into the mainstream market. It is likely that I am thinking the second part so that I won’t scream and scream and scream and never stop, though.

    1. I think we read the same porns, because yeah, that’s what this reminded me of IMMEDIATELY.

    2. Oh good, I wasn’t the only one whose brain went there.

      And cosigned on the screaming.

  12. Thanks for the tip about HabitRPG! I’ve downloaded it and so far enjoying it. And I would never buy something that zaps me.

      1. I started using it a couple of days ago. It really is fun. Thank you for mentioning it!

  13. Back when I was in grad school, and working and going to school a truly impressive/unhealthy number of hours, I was also devoted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Also, Spike.) The only time I would allow myself to watch Buffy (okay, well, Spike) was when I worked out. So, I taped all the reruns on FX with my handy VCR, and started working out 6 days a week to get my Spike fix. It was very effective, and I have established the habit of working out on a fairly regular basis to this day, although now I read fanfic on my iPad while I walk on the treadmill. (In retrospect, the exercise endorphins also helped me avoid self-harm and kept me from a total depression spiral at the time, while the community I found in fandom did the rest of the work, but you know.)

    So, what I’m saying is that there’s nothing wrong with finding a motivator to make healthy choices, whether that’s drooling over a hot guy for 45 minutes, or getting a kitten if you complete a training program, but I’m thinking that this device is just sort of stupid. I’m not going to work out or make a healthy choice to avoid being shocked; I’m going to leave the bracelet off to avoid being shocked, and then I’m going to do whatever I damn well please anyway.

  14. *dances slowly humming “Sweet Mother of Maude, I miss Shapely Prose”*

    (Not intended to be whinging/shaming/complaining about the site shutting down, just that I miss the community and the writers.)

    1. Me too, me too.

      Having a Sweet Machine piece on Captain Awkward is pretty much as close as you can get, though.

        1. AND LEMURS FOR ALL! No coconut crabs, though (I will never, ever be able to bleach my brain clean of that horror).

  15. HabitRPG is amazing, I’ve been struggling with waning productivity the past few days. Thank you for bringing that wonderful recommendation into what may have been an otherwise sad post…especially because I imagine many of us do need “encouragement” to get certain things done (I do, at least). It’s already difficult feeling like you’re disappointing yourself, so doing something to *literally* torture yourself when you’re already struggling…yeah, bad idea all around.

  16. There was a time when I actually used low-level torture to motivate myself. I figured, if it hurts every time I forget something, I won’t forget things anymore!

    It… didn’t actually work.

    What worked was telling everyone I knew that I was forgetful, and declining memory-based responsibilities like “bring snacks”. I’m clean-up and breakdown lady, not bring-things lady.

    Working with your weaknesses, instead of wasting energy failing to eradicate them, is magic.

  17. I’m sorry, but as someone who works with victims of torture and trafficking, I find it really offensive to compare a voluntarily-received electrical shock with torture. I wish you wouldn’t use that word for this device. I understand how awful the culture of fat hatred is and think this device is terrible, but I urge you to reconsider your rhetoric; none of us would be okay if you compared this electric shock to sexual assault, and yet torture is something millions of people on this planet have undergone and have to hide from shame.

  18. Yeah. . . I don’t. . . what.

    Basically the way to motivate myself is to make failure very nonthreatening. THIS DOES NOT MAKE FAILURE NONTHREATENING.

  19. Slightly off the topic of the awful device, but with the HabitRPG shout-out and a bunch of people talking about it in the comments, would it make sense to have an Awkward Army guild on Habit? We could have guild challenges like a “use your words” habit and a “be nice to yourself” daily 🙂

    1. I would totally join that guild! I have a subscription and so would be happy to put up the gems to create it if there’s interest 🙂

  20. This is horrifying.

    I … do not want to think about this device in the hands of abusive parents who believe their kids aren’t thin enough, or in the hands of gaslighty awful partners as another means of control.

    I’m going to go watch an episode of When Fish Attack to cleanse my palate, now.

    1. I had the same thought! I emailed the creator about it and apparently the thing has enough biometric sensors in it that it might be able to distinguish a kid from an adult, and if so he’ll be adding something about that to the software, so maybe that base is covered at least.

  21. I can think of a rough squillion ways this could be misused.

    I think I need to go hug a puppy for a while.

  22. Hi,

    I want to register my disagreement with this post: I have no issue with this device. I am a member of beeminder, a website which is oriented around a similar principle: You log your progress at something you want to track, and if you don’t meet some targets which you’ve already set, they charge you real actual money as a punishment. It works wonderfully for many people. The technique is known as “precommitment”, and is helpful for compelling yourself to do things which you know you want to do at a zoomed-out, macro level, but which you sometimes lack the willpower to actually do at the zoomed-in level of specific moments of time. It makes a lot of sense in light of the well-known fact that people often don’t actually do what they intend/plan to do. (The technical term for this is “akrasia”, by the way.) The electric shock component is admittedly drastic, but the principle is sound, and if it works for people then they should go for it.

    There are also plenty of compelling reasons to want to be fit and exercise, not all of which have to do with body image. Exercise makes you happier and makes you live longer. (I like my body just fine and don’t need to lose weight, but I still work out for just these reasons.)

    It’s quite possible that the article itself was indeed objectionable (via fat-shaming or what-have-you); I only skimmed it so I can’t say. I’m just talking about the device itself.

    1. Exercise makes you happier and makes you live longer. (I like my body just fine and don’t need to lose weight, but I still work out for just these reasons.)

      Here, I fixed it for you:

      Exercise makes you me happier* and might makes you live longer**.

      * YMMV
      ** Maybe, depending on which study you read. Some studies show, e.g., too much exercise reduces longevity

      I personally love all types of exercise, and keep up a regular regimen for my own reasons, including that it makes me (personally) happier. But that’s not the case for everyone. I don’t presume that my experience is universal, or to know which of many conflicting studies about a topic like this is “truth”

      1. Exercise improving mood is a widespread enough phenomenon that it’s not as if it’s just some personal quirk of mine. But alright, I accept your nitpick: it’s conceivable that not *everyone* would feel better for it. As for too much exercise decreasing longevity: this seems like a weird way of objecting to “exercise makes one live longer”. It seems clear enough that there’s a big area between “no exercise” and “so much exercise you die sooner” wherein the effects of exercise are strictly positive. In fact, I expect that very few people have reached the point where they’re exercising *too much*, rather than *not enough*.

        But even with your caveats, my point still stands: someone could have perfectly good reasons to want to use this device, and so to read its existence as some kind of dystopian harbinger of doom seems a mistake to me.

        1. Dude, seriously, shaddap. No one cares.

          I used to intern in a design company that was thinking of making fit bit like things like this. You know why this method would have never have flown?

          Because literally no company wants their brand associated with actually hurting their customers in such a blatant way. I noted that the people who designed the Pavlock weren’t on the Telegraph website. It was associated with an author who probably commissioned them to make it. I had to go and search for them, and they’re a small design company in Seattle, most of their other products are to do with mental health.

          Their website is clunky, and there is nothing about this that doesn’t scream at me ‘RUN RUN RUN IT’S INDUSTRIAL DESIGN WITH BEES OH GOD RUN’.

          ‘It seems clear enough that there’s a big area between “no exercise” and “so much exercise you die sooner” wherein the effects of exercise are strictly positive.’

          I’d like to see your trainers licence or medical degree first, bro-hiem.

          ‘In fact, I expect that very few people have reached the point where they’re exercising *too much*, rather than *not enough*.’

          I have. I run national races and weight lift competitively among other things, and over training is very common. By definition of overtraining, which comes from a sports scientist I know, rather than you, it is when you have trained your body so much you have not given it time to recover, regardless of physical state you were in to start with.

          ‘But even with your caveats, my point still stands: someone could have perfectly good reasons to want to use this device, and so to read its existence as some kind of dystopian harbinger of doom seems a mistake to me.’

          You know, they may well do, but unless that electric shock is kick starting your nervous system in a positive way, I’m finding those reasons hard to see and through a fog of bullshit right now.

          1. “I’d like to see your trainers licence or medical degree first, bro-hiem.”

            Are you seriously saying I need a trainers licence/medical degree before I’m allowed to claim “there is an amount of exercise which is better for you than no exercise?”

            “I have. I run national races and weight lift competitively among other things, and over training is very common. By definition of overtraining, which comes from a sports scientist I know, rather than you, it is when you have trained your body so much you have not given it time to recover, regardless of physical state you were in to start with.”

            Granted; I don’t doubt that such a thing is possible. But I maintain my original claim that very few people are at such a stage – at least, relative to the number of people who would get healthier by exercising *more*. Stepping back, I only brought it up in order to make the point that there are some good reasons to exercise, which doesn’t seem like it should be controversial.

            You also give some reasons why this ‘wouldn’t fly’ (no company wants their brand associated with actually hurting their customers in such a blatant way, the website is clunky). These may be true, but I’m not claiming that it would fly. I was just responding to the tone of moral indignation in the original post, which seemed unwarranted to me.

        2. As for too much exercise decreasing longevity: this seems like a weird way of objecting to “exercise makes one live longer”.

          You stated it as an absolute. I pointed out that it’s not an absolute truth. How is that weird?

          It seems clear enough that there’s a big area between “no exercise” and “so much exercise you die sooner” wherein the effects of exercise are strictly positive.

          Dude, that’s not what you said. Way to shift the goalposts.

          Seriously, enough with the mansplaining. We know what you’re trying to say, but we still disagree with you. That’s okay.

        3. James, this is not the comments section for you. Reason: You are fucking tedious as fuck. Farewell.

    2. I’ve been through being shocked electrically for my own good. And it really was for my own good; it was an electromyogram. I may have been able to stop it at any time, but a doctor was doing it, and it was for my own good, and she was finding things out, so I didn’t stop it.

      It was hell on earth. I will never. Ever. EVER. Go through that again. If the choice is between that and definite death, I will have a seriously hard time deciding which to choose, and may very well choose death.

      Harming someone for their own good is pretty often necessary in physical medicine. Using badpain to train any living creature to do or not do anything? NO. This is a thing We Do Not Do. It doesn’t work, for one thing. You can create a fearful person who lies to escape punishment through doing it, or who lashes out or runs away or hates themselves or etc. You cannot create healthy beings through doing it. We have thousands of years of human history telling us this fact.

      1. Your experience with the electromyogram sounds hellish, and you’ve my sympathies. However, its relevance isn’t totally clear to me. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that there are degrees of electric shock, and that what you went through is (presumably) orders of magnitude worse than what this little gizmo is able to muster.

        You seem to conflate inflicting pain on someone *else* for their own good with a person choosing to inflict pain on themselves. I agree that there are plenty of problems with the former and in fact it sound like a nightmarish dystopia, but it’s the latter that I’m defending. Compare BDSM: we tend to accept people’s right to consensually inflict pain on one another (within certain parameters). If you’re OK with BDSM but object to the Pavlok, then in what way is the latter worse?

        I don’t think one can make the blanket statement that it doesn’t work, either. There are several tools already in existence which aim to exploit the idea that, irrational as it seems, a concrete and immediate disincentive (e.g. being zapped or losing money today) can be more motivating than a distant and nebulous incentive (e.g. being in better shape in six months). I already mentioned Beeminder, someone else already mentioned Write or Die, and Stickk is another. For many people, they seem to work, and I don’t see that this device is essentially any different. I admit that it’s unlikely to work for everyone – I’m not exactly going to be queuing up to buy one myself – but I respect anyone else’s right to try it.

        1. Replying to myself because I cant see a way to edit my comment: I realize the BDSM comparison is unclear, because I was claiming that it’s similar to the Pavlok. In fact, you could say that they differ insofar as the latter is self-imposed and the former, strictly speaking, isn’t. I suppose I really meant to contrast consensual and nonconsensual pain, with both of those being examples of consensual (acceptable, in my book) as opposed to nonconsensual (typically unacceptable, even for someone’s “own good”, as you correctly note).

        2. This is a generalization that I’m sure one could find exceptions to, but usually people participate in BSDM practices because the find the sensation of pain or the concept of punishment enjoyable. The pain is the whole point. With this gadget, the pain is a means to an end, and with so many other means to do this that don’t involve physical pain, I find it disturbing. I don’t think I’m particularly unusual in finding physical pain a whole different level of negative than having to pay a fine like with Beeminder or other things like that. Physical pain would have me focusing on not getting zapped rather than on actually doing the thing I wanted to do.

    1. Yup. The electric shock after something particularly taxing would just be adding extra insult.

      I made the mistake, about a week ago, of going out on a five-mile walk (a walk I’ve taken many times before) on a day when it was about 86 degrees with a heat index of like, a million.

      I don’t think my face has ever been that red before. And I was sweating so badly I’m surprised my phone didn’t short out just from being in my hand.

      I was fine after a cool shower and a lie-down, but damn, that was an experience I’d never like to repeat.

      This is one of the many reasons why I will never judge someone for cutting their workout short (or choosing not to do so at all). I kinda figure folks know their body far better than I do.

  23. I have no words for this thing. Well, actually, I have many, mostly involving cuss words of various forms, but the most appropriate one is this: This is like training a dog by beating it with a stick every time it slips up, except you’re the dog. This piece of trash needs to be banned.

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