04:34:16 am on
Wednesday 19 Jun 2024

Piece of Cake
David Simmonds

We’ve all heard something of Ivan Pavlov, although his dog that makes him famous. Pavlov noticed that the dog would salivate at the prospect of food, so he experimented with various stimuli and eventually trained the dog to salivate at the ringing of a bell. He called it a “conditioned response.”

Research-based therapy.

Partially out of that research grew the field of “aversion therapy,” which is designed to wean patients away from responding to some sort of narrowly pleasurable, but broadly harmful, stimulus, such as a piece of cake. Researchers interject a negative stimulus; say a jolt of electricity. This forestalls giving in to the pleasurable stimulus.

All of that is a rather convoluted way of introducing a hot new product. The Pavlok is, to put it succinctly, a wearable, self-administered, self-harming device. Can’t resist the urge for a late evening piece of cake from the fridge; it’s perfectly understandable, knowing the Raptors will surely blow a 22-point lead in the final five minutes, and you’ll need the cake to help you through the stress. Just set your Pavlok at 100 volts and you’ll receive a zap of electricity that can feel anywhere between a vibrator and a bee sting. Still want that piece of cake, set your zapper at a higher intensity.

The Pavlok website claims that its product is, “the first device that breaks habits by deleting temptation.” Users must “continue doing the bad habit ... for five days, doing the bad habit, on purpose if necessary. The longer you continue, the more permanently the habit is broken.” Well, any medical device that claims to offer a “more permanent,” rather than a “merely permanent,” solution to a problem has certainly got my vote, even if it would have a tough time winning over a member of the grammar police.

Pull the trigger, automatically or manually.

The website also claims you can trigger the pain sensation, automatically or manually; “manually is as effective as automatic.” That leaves me puzzled. If I have to consciously turn the device on and set its intensity level, isn’t the device acting as a sort of unnecessary go between me and my bad habit? Wouldn’t it be a more direct route to tell myself, consciously, not to eat that piece of cake? If I were weak minded enough to say, without my Pavlok, that one piece of cake now wouldn’t hurt me, wouldn’t I likely be equally weak minded and tell myself that, just this once, I’ll leave my zapper off when I reach for that piece of cake?

To that query, satisfied users of Pavlok state, as the New York “Times” reports, that they don’t care how or why it works; they just know it is working for them. What do professionals think? The majority view seems to be that aversion therapy requires trained guidance, especially when there are milder types of therapies available.

The Pavlok sells for over $100. At that price, I think there might be a chance for me to enter the market with a lower priced alternative. How about the MASOCHISMO, which appears as an ordinary household fork? You don’t have to worry about power failures or batteries: you just hold it in one hand and with the other, plunge it as gently or fiercely as you choose into the palm of your opposite hand or into your arm, or thigh, you choose. The best part of it is that it retails for just $39.99, plus shipping and handling. So confident am I that the Masochismo will permanently cure your bad habit, I’ll guarantee that it’s usable as an ordinary household fork afterwards. The Masochismo could equally come up with her or his own homemade aversion therapy devices. One bound to be effective would be to imagine reading one more article about the debate over council size.

Wait, there’s more. The makers of Pavlok have been on Indiegogo, crowdfunding The Shock Clock, the wakeup trainer that means you will “never hit snooze again.” Instead, you will “train your brain to wake up naturally, alert and become a morning person.” What’s next, a zapper that hits you when you drift over to the other side of the marital bed?

Where Goethe (sic) our willpower?

Should we be at all concerned that we are slipping into the bad habit of using gadgets as a substitute for that great fundamental, willpower, which we all have? Isn’t our willpower going to grow flabby on us, like a little used muscle, if we start to rely on our Pavloks and Shock Clocks? Isn’t the human condition all about our imperfections, and our quest to recognize and overcome them through acts of will? Do we want the human condition to become an arsenal of conditioned responses instead?

I say a considered, “no thank you” to the Pavlok. Actually, they had me talked out of it at “more permanent.” After that, the decision was a piece of cake.


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

More by David Simmonds:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.