Anxiety is distracting and time-consuming, demanding your attention at whatever random moment it decides to pop up. And in that way, realized writer and programmer Paul Ford, it's sort of like the spam we get every day in our email inboxes. As he explained on this week's Reply All podcast, this insight partially served as the inspiration for Anxietybox, a spambot program he created to outsource those persistent negative thoughts.
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It worked like this: He gave Anxietybox a list of the things he most commonly freaked out about, and he also programmed in some phrases that turned those fragments into full sentences. Then, a dozen times a day, the bot would email him his own anxieties, resulting in some creepily undermining messages:
I don't agree with all the people who say you are weak-kneed and monstrous.
Most of your friends are doing okay, which makes me wonder why you are so a burden on others.
I respect that you just live your life and don't care if people think you are exhausting to know and not interesting.
People on Facebook look at your picture and think: strangely repulsive and whiny.
Ask yourself, do you always want to be deficient and likely to die soon.
People pretend to be nice to you but they're thinking: weird-faced.
Ford told "Reply All" that seeing his anxieties emailed to him in a stilted spambot voice took some of the sting out of them, simply by rendering them a bit ridiculous. It made those thoughts seem like what they really, essentially, are: mental spam.
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Alas, the positive effects appear to have been short-term: If you wander on over to Anxietybox.com today, you'll find a message from Ford saying that he shut the site down because "it was making me anxious." You can still try Anxietybox out, though — you'll have to create one for yourself using Ford's code, which he offers here.
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