YouTube rolls out digital wellbeing update

This week, Youtube begins rolling out a new digital wellbeing update for users. The update extends YouTube Kids app features to adults and consolidates time management features.

  • Time Watched Feature.  When signed in to YouTube (and you allow Google to track your watch history), this new feature allows you to see how much time you’ve spent watching YouTube videos today, yesterday, over the last seven days, along with your daily average watch time.
  • Take a Break Reminder.  Allows users to set a daily time limit that when reached activates a pop up reminder.
  • Autoplay Next Off Control.  Allows users to stop next videos from auto-playing.
  • Manage Notifications. In addition to turning on and off notifications, users can also opt to receive just one notification digest per day, and turn off haptic and sound notifications

The goal of YouTube’s digital wellbeing features is to help people understand and manage their time spent watching YouTube videos. Recent statistics show that more than 1 billion human hours are sunk everyday into YouTube, which is the world’s most popular video site. To give some perspective,  this is about the time that the entire US workforce spends working everyday (stats based on full time employment only).

Psychologically, these digital wellbeing features adopt the same basic behaviour change techniques (BCTs) found in Instagram’s new digital wellbeing push around goal-setting, self-monitoring and feedback. 

  • BCT#1 – Goal Setting (behaviour) – Set or agree on a goal defined in terms of the behaviour to be achieved
  • BCT #12 – Self-monitoring of behaviour – Establish a method for the person to monitor and record their behaviour(s) as part of a behavior change strategy
  • BCT #37 –  Remove aversive stimulus – Advise or arrange for the removal of an aversive stimulus to facilitate behavior change (includes ‘Escape learning’).

YouTube’s rationale mirrors that of other digital wellbeing initiatives and is based on the ‘quantified self’ notion of ‘self-improvement through self-knowledge’.  The goal is to “nudge” people to be more mindful of their use of the popular app by empowering them with data.

Will it work?  Users will be able to find out for themselves.  But, psychologically, the absence of incentives for moderating YouTube use may hinder effectiveness (and it doesn’t help that the digital wellbeing features are not consolidated into a single menu).

As an advertiser Google (owner of YouTube) has a huge opportunity to build a new Hold-style app/feature that rewards users for not using their smartphone – with points towards offers, discounts and samples from advertisers.

Such a product could have the potential to revolutionise digital advertising.

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.