We love our social platforms - but we also wish we spent less time on them. A new study has found adult users are happy to pay for help in setting limits.
Exactly half of the world’s total population - and that's counting every man, woman or child - uses social media today. And our average usage? A whopping 2.5 hours a day.
A love-hate relationship
Yet it’s fair to say most of us have a love-hate relationship with our favourite platforms. In fact, survey data shows social media and smartphone use are two of the top five activities over which we say want more self-control. (The other three, in case you’re wondering, are exercising, saving money and healthy eating.)
A large, randomised study conducted by researchers at the Washington Post showed if people could choose their preferred screen-time in advance - instead of mindlessly scrolling - they’d spend a third less time than they actually do.
Surveys show social media and smartphone use are two of the top five activities over which we say want more self-control.
Willpower is not enough
That’s a self-control issue - just as it is with other dependencies. Take cigarettes, for example. Most smokers would really like to quit, or at least cut down. They don’t need to be convinced cigarettes are bad for them. They get it! The issue is, how? How to find the self-control to impose the limits they know they need?
Social media is exactly the same. We love our platforms - but we know we need limits. We also know that willpower alone is not enough.
To find out what might help, researchers recruited 2000 adults and equipped their phones with an app that would accurately and confidentially measure their screen-time. They zeroed in on the use of five social platforms - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube.
Setting limits - by choice
A randomised group of participants were also given access to special software that allowed them to set personalised daily time limits on their next day’s screen-time. Once the limit was reached, the software would automatically force-quit their social media apps.
Their participation in this limit-setting exercise was entirely voluntary.
The researchers were astonished to discover that nine out of ten people chose to use the screen-time limit function. And when they did, their self-imposed boundaries reduced social media use by 17% over a three-month period.
57% said they used their phones too much. Almost nobody said they used their phones too little.
What’s more, once people had experienced screen-time limit setting, they were willing to pay to keep using it. It wasn’t much - $4.26 for three weeks of access - but it showed how keenly adults wanted help to reduce their usage.
“These facts,” the researchers maintain, “are evidence of self-control problems.”
They are also consistent with other evidence from the same study, which found that 57% of participants said they used their phones too much. Almost nobody said they used their phones too little.
“At a minimum, these results can encourage each of us to think harder about whether we’re using social media more than we really want,” the study concluded, “If so, we can think about ways to limit our own screen-time.
We can ask analogous questions about our kids’ screen-time.”
At Family Zone, those questions are at the heart of everything we do. Our advanced parental controls empower mums and dads to set flexible, personalised screen-time limits for their children - and, if they wish, even for themselves!
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