Facebook has been accused of many evils: allowing extremist group ecosystems to thrive, spreading misinformation, and being a convenient excuse for procrastination. While the world’s largest social network is also going through an existential crisis, with young people leaving it in hoards, , one man took it upon himself to break free from Facebook using a hard-hitting method.
In 2012, Maneesh Sethi, an Indian-American entrepreneur, hired someone to slap him every time he got on Facebook. Almost a decade later, his punchy plan to kick his addiction is still making him go viral.
“The amount of time I was spending on Reddit and Facebook was incredibly stupid and it was time to stop,” Sethi told VICE. “After using [time management app] RescueTime, I found I was wasting 19 hours a day, and it made me realise I suck at working by myself so I needed someone who would make me work. So, I went to Craigslist and put up an advertisement titled ‘Slap me if I get off task’ for $8 an hour.”
Last week, Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, reacted to Sethi’s story, instantly turning him into a viral sensation all over again.
“The experiment has a natural viral element to it because it's so unconventional, and it’s trying to solve a problem so many can relate with,” Sethi said, explaining why people could relate to his endeavour to stop wasting time even after all these years. “It's even more so now because of the pandemic and how a lot of us can feel sick of the isolation of working at home.”
COVID-19 lockdowns and the loneliness they brought upon people led to a massive surge in social media addiction among adults and teenagers, making Sethi’s bizarrely slapstick method an intriguing tactic for many. “I get equal parts hate; people either think I'm crazy or love the idea.”
While today, many are fascinated by Sethi’s solution, the entrepreneur was originally driven to it for a slightly different reason.
Sethi was living in San Francisco at the time, where slap bets had suddenly exploded. It’s a type of gamble where the loser becomes the receiver of a tight slap, popularised by the show How I Met Your Mother.
When Sethi put out the ad, he immediately got 20 emails from people applying for the position. Ultimately, he chose a woman named Kara to be his slapmaster.
“More than the fear of getting slapped, I'm certain the social element that Kara added to my work routine is what made me stay on task,” he stated. “I finally had a boss, although a makeshift one, who made the experience refreshing. She was helpful with not just slapping me, but I was also able to bounce ideas off her in real time.”
According to Sethi, the method was so effective that it quadrupled his productivity. He worked with his slapper-for-hire for a few months. Though he can’t seem to recollect how many times he got slapped in the duration, he said it was enough for him to get back on track with his tasks, and remember the sting of the slap every time he was tempted to doomscroll instead of getting on with his task list.
“It was an experiment that taught me that the social element is more important than the fear of being slapped,” he stressed. “Having a teammate to work with and bounce ideas from is ideal to focus and get out of your comfort zone.”
The experiment also inspired Sethi to design a product he called Pavlok, a wearable behaviour training device that vibrates to reward its user for good behaviour but sends a gentle electric shock for bad behaviour, which could even be putting off something from your to-do list. Currently, Sethi’s company allows users to download an app to list their tasks and then pair them with their wearable devices.
Sethi also stressed that his experiment taught him the importance of delegating tasks and working effectively with a team.
For Sethi, the experiment was the slap in the face he needed to get his shit together.
“I decided to take control and stop wasting time on it and redirect it to what was important to me,” said Sethi. “Now, I want to help others achieve what I dreamt about back then.”