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Instagram’s ‘Caught Up’ feature: a useful behavioural nudge or another way to increase screen-time?


At last year’s Advertising Week in New York, Facebook’s Global Creative Director Andrew Keller told us:

“The average person scrolls through 300 feet, or one Statue of Liberty, of mobile content every day.”

It’s astonishing how big our appetite for social media has now become and how much content we are thumbing through each day. Given this love of incessant scrolling, it may have come as a surprise to some that Instagram have decided to introduce a ‘Caught Up’ feature  which will tell users when they've seen all the content there is to see from the past two days.

At HeyHuman, we are always interested to see brands being more human and this new feature seemingly uses the behavioural economics concept of ‘nudging’ to influence how much time people spend on Instagram. It might be seen as an effort by them to build a more positive community in light of, parent company, Facebook’s recent admission that spending time on social media is bad for us. Perhaps, Instagram really do care about their users?

When I was reading about this new Instagram feature I was reminded of a TED talk from last year delivered by psychologist Adam Alter on ‘Why our screens make us less happy’. In this session, Adam talks about how addictive technologies are making us unhappy because there are no stopping cues. He says:

“A stopping cue is basically a signal that it's time to move on, to do something new, to do something different. And -- think about newspapers; eventually you get to the end, you fold the newspaper away, you put it aside. The same with magazines, books -- you get to the end of a chapter, prompts you to consider whether you want to continue. You watched a show on TV, eventually the show would end, and then you'd have a week until the next one came. There were stopping cues everywhere. But the way we consume media today is such that there are no stopping cues. The news feed just rolls on, and everything's bottomless.” 

So, I couldn’t help wondering what Adam would think of Instagram’s latest feature – Is this a stopping cue? Is this a good thing for users? Does Instagram actually care?. So, I reached out to him on Twitter and here’s what he said:

The question Adam poses here is whether this new feature is an effective stop cue or, in fact, a goal that users will now feel they have to furiously scroll towards? Adding to this, do we really believe a company whose business model is built around selling ads and to sell more ads they must gain more share of attention and get people to spend more time spent in their app would credibly add a stopping cue to their platform?

So, perhaps, we’d all be better off setting our own stop cues, rather than relying on the technology platforms to help us with our addictions to technology (you can see the irony in this right?!)? In his TED talk Adam suggests a couple of stopping cues we could try: 1. Putting your phone into airplane mode when you get home from work or 2. Turning your phone off every time you’re at a dining table. Whether you choose one of these or your own stopping cue if you impose it you take back control and you might just find your life is richer for it.

If you’re wondering if you spend too much time online or thinking you might need to break up with social media, why not come along to our debate “Social media: Is it time to log off?” on 19th July 2018?


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About Author

Laura Shephard
Laura Shephard

Senior Social Media Strategist

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