Facebook and Instagram are making it easier to spend less time on Facebook and Instagram. But why? | Social
It’s part of the “time well spent” movement.
Add Facebook and Instagram to the growing list of tech giants rolling out features to cut back on your screen time.
The two apps — Instagram with a billion-plus users and Facebook with twice that many — are rolling out new “time well spent” features meant to help people fight smartphone addiction. Now you’ll be able to see how much time you spend within each app, snooze notifications for up to eight hours, and even set a timer that will alert you after you’ve spent a certain amount of time using the app on a given day.
“As long as you believe that we’re developing products that people love, and that they use them frequently because they’re deriving value out of them, not because they’re addicted to it, then we’re doing our job,” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told Recode in an interview. “Okay, if that’s our mission, then the question is, ‘can we provide people tools so that they can be in control?’”
The new features are similar to what Apple announced for iOS in early June and what Google unveiled for Android in May. It gives users a way to monitor and cut down on their screen time — assuming they actually want to monitor and cut down on their screen time. The features are there, but people still have to actively choose to use them.
With Apple and Google, these “time well spent” features make more sense. Those companies are selling phones and operating systems. It doesn’t matter so much to Apple, for example, if you set timers on all of your favorite apps to cut down on usage. So long as the phone is still useful, you’ll continue buying Apple products.
But Facebook and Instagram’s entire business relies on users spending time inside their apps. Virtually every feature these companies have shipped over the past decade have been geared toward getting you to spend more time with their product.
Now, suddenly, they want you setting a time limit and walking away? It sounds borderline disingenuous. This is the same company, after all, that wants to be your portal for messaging, photo storage, shopping, video calls and customer service. It even wants to be your TV.
So why does it want people spending less time with its most valuable products?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been pushing “time well spent” for almost eight months. It’s one of the main reasons Facebook changed its News Feed algorithm in January to show people more posts from their friends and family. Zuckerberg said at the time that it would decrease the amount of time people spent inside the app, but that “the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.”
Ironically, improving the quality of time you spend with Facebook products could increase the amount of time people spend using them over the long term. If using Instagram makes you feel good — maybe because you spent less time aimlessly scrolling — you’re more likely to come back, the thinking goes.
Systrom also says he feels a responsibility to balance the amount of time people spend with Instagram. “Responsibility” has been Facebook’s unofficial word of the year. Ever since the 2016 presidential election, in which foreign actors used Facebook to try and sway voter opinion, the company has been “taking a broader view” of its responsibility as a news distributor, a data collector and now, apparently, a potential time waster.
“I as the CEO of Instagram don’t want to make a single person use Instagram more than they want to use it. That’s not my intention,” Systrom said. “So if we can give people the tools to control their time, or be aware of their time, I think that is a very healthy equilibrium.”
It will be interesting to see how this impacts Facebook’s business, if at all. It seems likely that most users won’t take the time to set limits for themselves. That’s what generally happens when new features are opt-in: Most people stick with the default settings.
But if users do choose to adopt this en masse — again, unlikely — Facebook could be in an interesting position. The less time people spend in Facebook apps, the fewer ads Facebook can sell.
“There may be some trade-off with other metrics for the company,” said Ameet Ranadive, a product director at Instagram, though he did not specify which ones. “That’s a trade-off that we’re willing to live with because, in the long run, this is important to the community.”