How Instagram Tries to Nudge Users Away From Excessive Use - Does it Work?

As evidenced by increases in app downloads, app earnings, and smartphone penetration over the last five years, mobile application usage seems to be on the rise. The smartphone has managed to take up even more of our time. However, usage does not distribute evenly across types of mobile apps. Five social media apps in particular, have gained disproportionate shares of overall app use.

The makers of these apps, of course, want people to use and spend time using them, and consumers have obliged. But more recent trends also stress the importance of balanced mobile device usage. In accordance with this, users or parents of users, aim to gauge and monitor screen time so that daily productivity is not lost. Healthy device usage also aims to balance the potential addictive, mental, or emotional effects of screen technology and the social media they enable. In response to this, some application and device makers have found it appropriate, even lucrative, to engage with these goals. Among them, Instagram, has decided to employ on-screen features in a seeming attempt to nudge users away from excessive use.

You’re all caught up

In July, Instagram introduced the “You’re All-Caught Up” feature to help reduce users’ unnecessary screen time in the app. This feature consists of a message that appears on the timeline if the user has scrolled far enough down to posts that they had already scrolled through in the past. The goal of this feature is to nudge users away from looking through strings of posts multiple times.

Although it could be argued users naturally recognize landing upon pictures they’ve already seen once, an in-timeline update coming in the form of a tangible message leaves no question as to their recognition of the occurrence. It allows the act of scrolling through already-seen content to be even more front of mind. Explicitly calling it out like this may serve as a mechanism to break users’ habits of somewhat mindlessly scrolling through posts they’ve already viewed. Beyond increasing awareness of when one recycles back through pictures on the timeline, this feature might serve to further strengthen the following association in users’ minds: “Instagram is telling me I’m all caught up and that I’ve already seen what I’m scrolling through; should I not be scrolling through this again? Why would they shed light on this if it didn’t matter that I kept scrolling? It therefore might not be desirable for me to scroll through this content again.”

It is important to note however, that at times people do want to revisit older content on their timeline.. This is normal, but it is important to know when to stop scrolling, since one can technically scroll back endlessly; the interface won’t physically stop you. Though, by increasing awareness and hinting at its potential non-desirability, this non-binding message can in theory nudge users away from viewing pictures multiple times, such that on average, a user spends less time scrolling through things they’ve already seen.