Many Instagram users have had this realization while scrolling through their feeds: Half an hour has passed, and you’ve wasted it mindlessly looking at fancy brunch photos, celebrity workout routines, and your friends’ exotic vacations.
Instagram is trying to fix this vicious cycle by building a feature that will let users track how much time they’ve spent on the platform. On Monday (May 14), developer Jane Manchun Wong spotted code indicating the addition in the Instagram Android app API, and Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom confirmed the news on Tuesday in a tweet.
It’s not yet clear how the platform will present the information—whether it will break it down daily, weekly, monthly, or by feature (such as Stories and Explore). This could affect how much users are turned off from the platform, notes TechCrunch, which first reported the development. For example, if you find out how many hours of your life you’ve spent on Instagram, you might be more shocked and thus unwilling to use it further, rather than a daily report that could help you curb the habit.
On its face, introducing a time-tracking function would seem to go against Instagram’s interests: The more time you spend on Instagram, the more ads you see, filling up the company’s coffers. But as Facebook, which owns Instagram, and other social media platforms face criticism for, well, “programming people’s brains” and destroying “the fabric of society,” the move could help them save face.
More broadly, tech companies are increasingly heeding user frustration with social media addiction. Earlier this month, Google announced new features for its Android operating system that will track how often you use certain apps, encouraging users to take breaks from their phones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s self-improvement project for 2018 is “fixing Facebook,” a big part of which includes focusing on “time well spent” on the platform. On an earnings call in January, Zuckerberg said people were spending less time on Facebook as the company has started to discourage passive consumption, such as watching hours of viral videos. In the long term, he has said this approach would benefit Facebook’s business, because spending less time on Facebook provides users with a better experience.
Zuckerberg is not the first to talk about “time well spent.” It’s a credo also pushed by Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist who has made it his mission to address the harm caused by internet platforms. It seems that Silicon Valley is listening.