It was reported yesterday by TechCrunch, and subsequently confirmed by CEO Kevin Systrom, that Instagram will be implementing a “time spent” widget in its “User Insights.”
The move is being compared to Google’s recent unveiling of “time management controls”—a feature which tracks one’s activity online in order to allow users to make more informed use of their time.
It is unclear what timeframe—weeks, months, days—Instagram’s tools will be going by.
In a statement, Systrom said:
“We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”
Adorably, the media seems to be eating the move right up. “Tech giants,” the same reporter wrote, “could encourage people to adopt healthier habits.” By seeing how much time is spent weekly scrolling Instagram’s feed, he argues, users would be urged to engage in “more conscientious use” of the app.
Oh, how quickly we forget.
Mr. Systrom—far from our saving grace—has played one of the largest roles, if not the largest, in creating the addiction that is social media.
Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, told interviewers last year that Systrom, along with Zuckerberg, had “consciously” understood that they were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” to keep users hooked and grow their companies.
If that weren’t enough, a professor from Stanford—where Systrom majored in “symbolic systems,” a “mix of psychology and computer science”—told Business Insider that he, too, believed Instagram’s addictive nature was deliberate. Systrom, he said, “knows a lot.”
For his own part, the CEO evades responsibility. In response to a question from Mr. Porter about charges he has made Instagram addictive, Systrom said:
I think to apply a single label of good or bad for something like social media or phones misses all the nuance. Everything has its limits. If you exercise too much, it’s unhealthy.
Again, the question was about if he had made his app purposefully addicting, not whether or not social media was a “good” thing. There is certainly a proper amount of exercise, but I don’t believe it follows that there is a proper amount of addiction—any amount is too much.
Meanwhile, in the same interview, Systrom professes his own addiction: “I’m pretty obsessed,” he says, “I’m on it pretty nonstop.”
It’s almost like he’s one of us! Except of course, he profits handsomely from our zombie-scrolling, while we are left feeling rather sh*tty about ourselves.
In short, maybe looking to Instagram to save us from its addictive nature isn’t the best way to go—it’s a bit like seeking rehab from your local pushy bartender. Not to mention, given how much investors are in love withe the app, and its parent company, we shouldn’t really expect to see much decreased usage.
Kevin Systrom is a fraud, and I don’t blame him—most CEOs have to be. But let’s not forget his own hand in bringing about the problem which he now wants to be “part of the solution of.”
Scorpions sting, and always will, so don’t be the frog.
Cover Photo Courtesy Marc Schafer