In mid-November 2018, Instagram began rolling out to all users a new activity tracking dashboard, after having announced the dashboard several months earlier in the year. At that time, parent Facebook announced that it would be implementing the new dashboard in response to a report which was making the round of all tech circles, and describing the inherent problems and dangers associated with excessive social media participation.
This report cited statistical evidence that passive engagement and social media with no time limits could lead to significant negative impacts on users’ mental health. Facebook itself is also adopting the digital well-being measures, so it’s only natural that the same kind of practices be adopted by its partner Instagram.
The tools available on the activity tracking dashboard are also meant to be part of a wider effort to help track usage time on the platform, since this has recently become an industry hotspot. Apple and Google have both implemented measures and provided tools for users to track their time spent while engaged with online activities. Presumably, educated users would then impose restrictions on themselves so as to curtail excessive time spent online.
The suite of tools and metrics are included in Instagram’s Usage Insights dashboard, which first appeared in early May 2018, and has been through various testing phases ever since. Tools available through the dashboard allow you to stay informed of your total time spent online, as well as being given an average of the time you spend online daily. It also allows you to impose limits on your time spent, although it does not go to the ultimate step of enforcing any such limitations.
Instead, a reminder will simply pop up when you have exceeded the threshold that you’ve established for yourself, and the notification will tell you that it’s time to sign off. The big question though, is whether or not users will actually pay attention to this dashboard and make use of the tools available through it.
In effect, the reminders provided by the Usage Insights dashboard will be alerting you to the fact that you have spent more time than you should have online, and you’ve been wasting time that could have been spent on more productive activities. Viewed from this standpoint, the information provided by the Usage Insights dashboard could be construed as more of a nuisance than a valuable informational tool, as it is intended.
What’s included on the dashboard
Probably the most significant tool available through the Usage Insights dashboard is the Time on Instagram graph, which depicts daily usage on the platform. All time is recorded daily for usage on Instagram with the current device used to access the platform. Those days which exceed a limit you have established are highlighted in a dark blue color, while those which remain in tolerance are depicted in a light blue color.
You have the opportunity to set a daily reminder for time usage, and once this threshold is exceeded, you will automatically be sent a notification to that effect. The settings which you can emplace for yourself range anywhere from five minutes of time spent on the platform up to 23 hours and 55 minutes daily. Obviously, the upper limit of these settings would be a bit impractical, and it would be tantamount to having no limitation whatsoever, but if you were inclined to spend almost the entire day on Instagram, you could do so without getting a warning reminder.
You will also have the possibility to mute push notifications through the dashboard, which means you can turn off all notifications provided by Instagram for a time frame which you specify. This is intended to help you focus on a particular task which is important, so that you are not interrupted by any kind of notifications during the time you’re working on the task. You can set the Mute Push Notifications for increments of 15 minutes, one hour, two hours, four hours, or eight hours, and then of course, you can cancel the muting of the push notifications at your option.
Practical effects of the dashboard
Instagram does not enforce any time limits that you set on yourself when using the Usage Insights dashboard for managing your online time. This of course is understandable, since the social media platform exists in the first place because users come online daily, and spend a great deal of time socializing and carrying out other activities.
It would be counter-productive for Instagram or any social media network, to limit your time spent online, especially when it is in the interests of the company itself that you spent more time on the platform. However, because so much attention has been focused on digital well-being in recent times, and because the negative impacts of excessive time spent online have now been so well documented, most social media platforms are obliged to take steps. While it is certainly not up to Instagram or to its parent Facebook, to inform users how much time they should spend on the platform or to limit that time in any way, the tools made available on the Usage Insights dashboard do make it possible for users to police themselves.
Benefits to social media platforms
The news is not all bad for Instagram, Facebook, and any other social media platform seeking to provide users with time management tools. While it may indeed result in reduced usage by users who are alarmed by their excessive time spent online, there is a silver lining for the social media platforms as well. Making these new features available to users could actually work in favor of the social media companies in the long run.
By providing tools and metrics for users so that they can be more comfortable with their time spent online, it could definitely prevent a backlash sometime in the future against the social media companies. This positions Instagram, Facebook, and others as companies with a moral conscience, and demonstrates at least a certain amount of caring and concern for the well-being of all their users. And that of course, is far better than the perception which might otherwise develop, if the social media platforms took no steps at all toward helping users manage their time online.