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Usage insights: The time well-spent movement and nanny state

Friends with smart phone outdoor

How much time do you spend per day on your favourite apps? How about per week? The figure is likely to be more than most would care to admit, but fresh features rolled out by two of the biggest names in social are about to make finding out far easier.

Introducing usage insights

It started with new coding found in an update to Google’s Android app, and now news has hit that Instagram is jumping on the bandwagon by rolling out new functions allowing users to view— and therefore monitor— how much of their lives are taken up by these networks.

The idea is to arm people with valuable information which could empower them to take (back) control of screen time, helping you take steps to reduce this and engage with programmes more responsibly. Instagram’s will even include notifications to let you know when every fresh piece of content from accounts you follow has been viewed, discouraging obsessive scrolling.


How bad is the problem?

As The Guardian put it in November 2017, screen time ‘is one of the most divisive contemporary issues in children and adolescents’, but there are some aspects of the subject we can all agree on. These include:

*Time spent staring at a screen has consistently increased year-on-year for the last decade.

*Several studies have shown a link between depression, anxiety and screen time, with young people and children particularly vulnerable.

*Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has suggested the UK government should impose limits on the amount of time children spend on social.

*The Time Well Spent movement is pegged as tech’s next big debate, spearheaded by former-Google ‘design ethicist’ Tristan Harris, and co-opted by Facebook, amongst other firms. Mark Zuckerberg issued this statement on 11th January 2018:

“By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.???


What does Time Well Spent really mean?

Time Well Spent doesn’t just refer to restricting the number of hours people are spending on social channels, but better facilitating them to use those hours in a positive way. According to Harris, it’s about a seismic shift away from standard online measurement— shares, likes, comments— towards evaluation methods that emphasise the beneficial impact brand accounts are having on the lives of users.

Joe Edelman, who claims to have coined the term Time Well Spent with Harris five years ago, has written two essays on the subject for Medium. In the second, he plots out a possible path forward for software designers, wherein they are focussed on creating online environments that tie-in with the values of those in the community, helping them live by those standards through the apps. The result being time better— or at least more positively— spent.

The nanny state

One of the biggest criticisms of Usage Insights and a movement dedicated to telling people they need to unplug is the way in which it guides and attempts to guilt trip social users into switching off.

This invokes the idea of a nanny state, wherein we the public are not trusted to do what is in our best interests, and instead pushed into a way of thinking through shock tactics. In many ways, Usage Insights, in Nudge Theory terms, are a giant shove in the direction powers-that-be think you should be heading.


What do you think? Is Time Well Spent a long overdue acceptance of social channels having gone too far in their attempts to keep us logged-on, or should we be left to our own devices, pun intended? Join the conversation via Twitter or Facebook


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