What Happens When You Outsource Your Anxiety

science of us

By Melissa Dahl
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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.

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