Tuesday, November 05, 2019

More on travel-related reading habits

by Rick Blechta

If you’re a regular reader of Type M, you’ll know I traveled by air recently and did a bit of rough and ready research on how my fellow travelers were occupying themselves. There weren’t a lot of books in sight, nor were there many e-readers, either. Most people were looking at their cell phones — and I doubt they were reading books.

I’ve expanded my amateur research since then because I’ve been using Toronto’s transit system a fair bit lately. On one of the subway lines, the trains are open between cars making it easy to just stroll along and observe people (assuming it’s not rush hour with completely packed cars).

What have I noticed?

Still not many printed books or e-readers in sight. Most people were staring at their smart phones, again checking messages and responding. I’d say the proportions are nearly the same as what I saw in the airports. In one recent trip, I strolled through 8 cars (since we were stopped between stations while a problem cleared). Each car held around two dozen people, so let’s call it 200 people observed. I saw a total of 5 books, what looked like 4 e-readers, approximately 120 people staring at their cell phones (I embarrassingly lost count partway through), and the rest were either talking with someone or staring off into space.

I also noticed 7 ads for books and one was in every car and that’s a pretty good thing!

Remembering back to my youth and using trains every day into New York City to attend school, nearly everyone was reading, mostly newspapers or magazines, but there were a fair number of books. These cars were packed most of the time since it was rush hour, but even standees were reading their cleverly-folded papers or holding a book one-handed (which is a tiring thing to do if the book is a thick one).

While one can read books on a smart phone, I don’t think many people do that because it’s difficult. Flash fiction hasn’t really caught on either. My suspicion is it’s just easier to whip out one’s phone and check messages, visit news sites, or do social media. It’s also easier than lugging around a book, too.

So are people reading less while traveling about because they have cell phones and those are easier to carry around, or are they reading less because, well, they’re reading less?


Thomas Kies said...

Rick, I flew to and from Dallas this past week. On the plane, I noticed that a high percentage of people were watching videos or movies on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones. I felt like one of the few people on those flights reading a real book.

Rick Blechta said...

One thing I haven't mentioned is that someone on one of my recent flights sat down across the aisle at boarding time and asked, "Are you reading?" I felt like giving a bratty answer, but refrained. Later on I wondered if she was meaning to ask, "What are you reading?"

I didn't get out of my seat during any of the flights (they were all under 2 hours), but I wish now I had so I could scope out what people were doing to while away their time.

Sybil Johnson said...

While I was at LAX, waiting for the plane to Dallas I notice 3 kids reading physical books! Since it was the morning,a lot of the people were eating breakfast.

Rick Blechta said...

Breakfast is good. But three kids all reading? Fantastic!

Sybil Johnson said...

I know. I thought it was great.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Rick, I read books on my phone quite a bit. A lot of other people do too. My iPhone defaults to where I left off in the book I'm reading on my Kindle or Surface at home. Always when I stop for a cup of coffee, I read on my phone. So There.

Rick Blechta said...

Good to know, Charlotte. Thanks for that info!