View profile

The Time Well Spent debate is over. (Time Well Spent won)

June 22 · Issue #159 · View online
The Interface
Programming note: I’m going on summer vacation! See you back here on July 8th. In the meantime, I’ll have fresh episodes of Converge, a conversational game show that some people (me) are calling the song of the summer. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Google Play Music, Spotify, our RSS feed, and wherever fine podcasts are sold. This week I talked with Clara Labs CEO Maran Nelson, who runs an AI company and wants us to be more wary of the scary things AI is doing right now. Of potential interest to Interface subscribers!
In January, I wrote that “Time Well Spent” was likely to dominate the discussion in tech this year. The movement led by Tristan Harris, Joe Edelman, and a small cadre of former tech employees had vaulted into the mainstream that month when, after Harris had been particularly critical of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg himself adopted Harris’ language to describe his goals for the company.
“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,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.
As new research came out supporting the idea that social media can make people feel bad about themselves, Facebook was an early target of the Time Well Spent movement. Harris argued that human beings were ill equipped to manage the time they spent on digital devices, given the army of PhDs at Facebook and other companies working to hold their attention.
But as the chief makers and enablers of those devices, Google and Apple also found themselves under pressure. (Harris had begun his work while still working at Google.) And they reacted with shocking speed. Last month, Google announced Android P, which will offer you a dashboard that gives you usage statistics for every app on your phone. It also allows you to place limits on each app, and enable a “wind down” mode that turns the phone grayscale before bedtime.
This month, Apple followed suit with a dashboard, app limits, and additional parental controls. The message was clear: these are now default features of any smartphone operating system.
Today came news that Facebook itself was creating an in-app dashboard to display your time spent in the app. Josh Constine reports on some digging from developer Jane Wong:
Buried in Facebook’s Android app is an unreleased “Your Time on Facebook” feature. It shows the tally of how much time you spent on the Facebook app on your phone on each of the last seven days, and your average time spent per day. It lets you set a daily reminder that alerts you when you’ve reached your self-imposed limit, plus a shortcut to change your Facebook notification settings.
Facebook confirmed the feature development to TechCrunch, with a spokesperson telling us, “We’re always working on new ways to help make sure people’s time on Facebook is time well spent.”
When I wrote that Time Well Spent was shaping up to be the next big debate in tech, I never imagine that the debate would be settled by June — or that Harris and his colleagues would have won the debate so decisively. But win they did, and now the question about all these Time Well Spent features is whether people use them — and what happens if they do.

Over 100 Amazon employees sign letter asking Jeff Bezos to stop selling facial recognition software to police
Facebook Hired A Team Of Ex-Intel Officers, Researchers, And Media Buyers To Pressure Test Its Systems
Instagram Removed a ProPublica Post Outing White Supremacists Because Facebook Keeps Blocking the Wrong Things
Cambridge Analytica's Final Spinoff Spent A Year Trying To Get "Government Work"
Also, Ace NYT reporter Kevin Roose announced today he’s COMING FOR MY BEAT, but I like him and frankly this is a journalistic all-hands-on-deck situation and I look forward to his additional contributions to this newsletter. Please be helpful to Kevin, although no more helpful to him than you would be to me:
Kevin Roose
Hello! For the next few months, I'll be covering a big and (I think) critical story: social media and the 2018 midterms.

Get in touch (email in bio, DM for Signal) if you:

— work on a campaign digital team
— research social disinformation
— see something sketchy on your feeds
Facebook mistakenly leaked developer analytics reports to testers
Facebook says it has "no plans" to listen in on users' conversations to target them with ads.
Facebook moves into print with UK quarterly title aimed at business leaders but claims it is not a ‘magazine’
Teens at VidCon sound off on YouTube, Facebook Watch, Snapchat’s redesign and IGTV
Twitter ‘smytes’ customers
Study: male D.C. reporters retweet male colleagues three times more
Spectacles’ latest update finally optimizes videos for sharing outside Snapchat
And finally ...
The Glamorous Grandmas of Instagram
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Favorite things to do in Munich?
Did you enjoy this issue?
In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue