The Google-owned video sharing site joins Facebook, Instagram and Apple in adding features to track and limit screen time.
YouTube wants to save us from ourselves.
The video-sharing website has joined the growing digital well-being movement adopted by its parent company Google, and social networking sites Facebook and Instagram, by introducing new features to help users keep tabs on how much time they’ve lost binge-watching movie trailers and cat-video compilations.
“Our goal is to provide a better understanding of time spent on YouTube, so you can make informed decisions about how you want YouTube to best fit into your life,” the company wrote in a blog post on Monday.
Now YouTube users can click on a “Time Watched” profile available in their account menu, which shares with you how long you’ve watched YouTube videos today, yesterday and over the past seven days. You can also set reminders to take breaks in your settings, which will pop up at your predetermined times (every half hour, hour, etc.) and suggest that you press pause for a bit. It has also silenced your YouTube notifications by default between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. so that alerts won’t wake you at night.
“We’re dedicated to making sure that you have the information you need to better understand how you use YouTube and develop your own sense of digital wellbeing. We hope these tips are a good start,” the YouTube post concluded.
Facebook also announced earlier this month that it would roll out features to show you exactly how much time you’re wasting on the Facebook and Instagram apps, including an activity dashboard to track how many minutes (or, more likely, hours) you’ve spent eyeballing posts, as well as ways to cap your screen time and limit notifications.
“We want the time people spend on Facebook and Instagram to be intentional, positive and inspiring,” the company explained in a news release. “Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.”
Users can use the Settings page on either app to begin activating these features. Tapping “Your Activity” on Instagram and “Your Time on Facebook” on Facebook will bring you to a dashboard showing your average time spent using the app on that device for the past week, as well as how much time you’ve spent on the app each day.
You can also set a daily “limit” below the dashboard — for example, cutting yourself off at 30 minutes or two hours — which you can adjust or cancel as needed. A reminder will then pop up when you’ve reached your daily limit as a gentle nudge to exit the app and stay offline. You can now also set “Mute Push Notifications,” which curbs your Facebook or Instagram alerts for a set period of time when you just need to focus.
The new features support CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 resolution to make sure that “the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent,” which has already included changing the News Feed to list the “most relevant” posts from friends and family first, and showing fewer clickbait news stories. Instagram also previously added a “You’re All Caught Up” feature letting users know when they’ve seen every post in their feeds from the past two days.
These tools come after the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report warned that American adults are spending almost half of their days — more than 11 hours — listening to, watching, reading or interacting with media on their phones, tablets, TVs and computers. While television eats up most of our time, the report noted that digital usage on smart devices has increased 13 minutes from last quarter to three hours and 48 minutes a day, with 62% of that time being sucked by app and web usage on smartphones.
A growing body of research suggests that too much screen time, especially on social media, hurts our mental health.
A recent U.K. study found that increased social media usage around age 10 leads chips away at teen girls’ self-esteem, and their well-being continues to decline as they reach their teens. More time spent in front of a cell phone or computer screen can lead to increased symptoms of depression and, in severe circumstances, suicide-related behaviors and thoughts in female teens, according to a San Diego State University report. The study suggests that these photo-heavy social networks painting everyone’s lives in the best possible filter can make users feel pressure to look a certain way and keep up with appearances of others. And Instagram has the most negative impact on young people’s health and well-being, according to a 2017 survey of nearly 1,500 people ages 14 to 24 by the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) and the Youth Health Movement.
Apple and Google have also rolled out screen-time management tools for their smartphones. Google’s “Digital Wellbeing” and Apple’s iOS12 “Screen Time” both have dashboards that give an overview of how much time you’ve spent on your phone, and break down how many hours and minutes you’ve spent on specific apps. You can also set self-imposed limits on both phone operating systems capping your time on specific apps. But while you can basically ignore Apple’s pop-ups reminding you that your time is up — similar to how you can ignore Facebook and Instagram’s — Google’s version will actually gray out the app icon on your home screen, and won’t let you access it again unless you go back into the dashboard and manually unlock it.
This article was originally published Aug. 1, 2018 and has been updated with YouTube’s new feature.
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