How much time did you spend on Instagram today? 25 minutes? An hour? More?
After teasing the release of new tools for measuring time spent earlier this year, Instagram, as well as Facebook, are officially rolling them out to users. Beginning today, you'll be able to see exactly how long you scrolled through your feed and tapped through Stories on a weekly basis.
On Instagram, head to your Profile, select Settings, and tap Your Activity. Here, you'll see a bar graph breaking down the average amount of time you spent on the app that week. Tap on an individual bar to see the breakdown by day.
Further down, you'll see two options for managing your time: Set A Daily Reminder and Notification Settings. Daily Reminders simply ask you to choose how much time you'd like to spend on Instagram each day. When your time is up, you'll get a notification telling you as much, which you can choose to ignore or use as a cue to log off. Notification Settings lets you mute notifications for a length of time up to eight hours. You can also specify which notifications you want to receive — for example, only likes from people you follow — and which you don't want cluttering your lock screen.
This process is mirrored on Facebook: Simply go to the menu and scroll down to Your Time On Facebook, where you'll see the same options.
A couple of buzzwords lie at the heart of these tools: "intentional" and "meaningful." These terms were used when Facebook announced changes to its News Feed algorithm earlier this year, which prioritised posts from family and friends over public content (i.e. celebrities, brands, and publishers). They are also the terms at the centre of the digital wellbeing movement currently sweeping all of Silicon Valley: Google debuted an app timer earlier this year and Apple's upcoming iOS 12 release includes a devoted Screen Time tab within Settings. (The oft-observed irony is that tech made these fixes a necessity to begin with.)
For Facebook and Instagram, the wellbeing revolution is linked to research showing that active engagement, such as commenting or posting, is tied to positive wellbeing while passive engagement, such as scrolling, is not. It probably doesn't hurt that these new tools will also help to appease parents concerned about the effects of screen time and groups, such as the Center for Humane Technology, that call for a solution to "a system designed to addict us."
But will the tools rolling out to Facebook and Instagram users really result in a more meaningful, intentional experience?
That partially depends on how you define meaningful. There is no right answer to this, nor is there a definitive number of minutes you should be spending on your devices for maximum wellbeing.
Facebook and Instagram's tools are certainly a more moderate, even subdued, approach compared to what Apple will offer iPhone users when iOS 12 rolls out this fall. In the new operating system, setting app limits and designating "downtime" present a stronger visual case for taking time away from social media: Try to open the apps, and you'll be shown a white screen with an hourglass and a reminder that "you've reached your limit." With a single tap you can ignore this limit and continue scrolling your feed, but it's a much stronger deterrent than a simple push notification.
If you really want to hold yourself accountable for the time you spend on Instagram or Facebook, you might stand a better chance with the settings iOS 12 offers. At the same time, it's worth noting that there isn't anything wrong with wanting to zone out and tap through Stories or scroll through your feed. It's just about finding the balance that works for you and your schedule.