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    Passive-Aggressive Shame Apps Are Multiplying, Because People Are Lazy As Hell

    Written by

    Zach Sokol

    If you can't wake up without being embarrassed on the Internet, then there might be something flawed in your work ethic. Nonetheless, there's a growing list of start-ups hocking passive-aggressive encouragement apps, which suggests that these days, people are best motivated by what essentially amounts to e-masochism. 

    For example, the Japanese Okite, BetterMe, and Shame Alarm all promise to publicly shame users who hit snooze on their alarm clocks by sending embarrassing tweets or Facebook posts to all their followers. GymShamer offers a similar service, but connects to FourSquare so that tweets are sent out when you skip going to the gym. Users can usually change a tweet's content and the frequency at which they're sent out, but regardless, is the threat of a "Haha, I'm lazy" tweet necessary to get up in the morning?

    For some, it's not enough. Monetary punishment for missing a responsibility is more motivating than a silly tweet, though, and more and more start-ups are connecting your bank account to their services. 

    The best examples of this trend include GymPact and StickK, two apps that force users to include credit card information upfront before they choose the service. Whereas GymPact becomes a competitive money pool where all participants make a small profit each time a singular user misses a promised work-out, StickK offers the opportunity to 'partner' with organizations (including various charities) that will take your money each time you get a little lazy. 

    Don't let the predictably-cute promo video for Okite trick you: The app is designed to tell the world you're a lazy piece of shit.

    A former colleague took the masochism to its penultimate level by telling StickK to donate to an anti-gay charity whenever he skipped the gym. What would you rather do: Hate yourself for giving money to people that make you feel sick, or go push some weights? And it's not just for exercising. Other friends have tried using it to quit smoking. Wouldn't it make you feel guilty to see an extra dollar go towards cancer research each time you bought a pack of cigarettes?

    These aren't just productivity apps. They're a crossroads among fear, reinforcement and competition that make these self-help services more like mind games due to higher stakes. But why would we want to torture ourselves with an inescapable object that resides in our pant pockets?

    Since Pavlov's experiments with conditioning, negative reinforcement in contained settings has proved to be a legitimate means of getting results form subjects. These Pavlovian apps might correct certain behavior as it happens, but do they train users to make long-term changes?

    Furthermore, if they do correct behavior, are these apps anything more than fleeting novelties? Once I establish a workout routine, will I continue using GymPact? I've yet to see a study looking at the long-term effects of these types of apps, so it's too early to tell. But the basic concept makes sense.

    One brave lunatic bet themselves $70 a week on StickK that he or she could give up caffeine. No caffeine? Now that's masochistic. Via

    Science and psychology tell us that humans are more likely to do something when there's a prize or competition involved, and if the competition is ever-present -- via push notifications and alerts on your phone -- then users are more likely to pay for a service. It's like having a life coach without the price or personality.

    Not to mention, we're lazy. We will use every excuse or shortcut possible before committing to something that's maybe challenging (gasp!). We need fires under our asses to do a pull-up, or at least a shame-post on the internet. It appears as if software developers realized they could cash in Americans' favoring punishment over self-discipline.  

    There are some positive reinforcing apps, such as Lift, a service that lets you visually analyze how often you do certain activities, and then asks you to set goals and join what resembles an online support group to make sure you meet those goals. It's telling, however, that it's much easier to find negative reinforcing apps to download than positive. Fear and failure appears to motivate more than coddling and complimenting, even in the digital realm.  

    We all know that social media has made it infinitely easier to be passive aggressive to those around us. From the 'drowning in dirty dishes' gif you sent your messy roommate via Gchat, to that time you "liked" your ex-girlfriend's new photos with dudes you didn't recognize, the faceless qualities of the web have made it easier to be an instantaneous dick.

    I don't have to tell you this, though. The emotional vagaries of internet exchanges are well understood, and trolls aside, somehow it's easier to get hot around the collar when you're online. The passive aggressiveness and web-enabled anger won't be subsiding anytime soon, regardless of internet self-awareness. If anything, we should expect to see more and more apps that involve self-punishment. It's only a matter of time before a church-funded start-up appears that sends you Bible quotes and guilt-ridden texts each time you watch porn.