What People Do On Trains

By | March 23, 2010

Train travel is instructive for observing the work habits of ones fellow passengers. We think it is a very under researched area of human behaviour deserving of more attention.

Computer Jockeys
Hunt and peck typing is still the most popular form of typing. It’s interesting to see a form of genuine equality, neither sex seeming to have lots of competent typists. Our unscientific research shows Word and Excel being the most common programmes (excluding email see next section) with PowerPoint a very poor third. It’s much more common to see people watching films, although interestingly more in the evenings than mornings, a treat after work perhaps?

Writers
Still a common activity. Note taking and list making the most prevalent forms.

Talking
Only to people you’re travelling with, otherwise a very weird thing to do.

Email
BlackBerrying (or version of) very popular. Often done with lots of frowning, either due to frustration or difficulty reading the screen.

Phoning
We think this is less common than it used to be. Very little on the morning commute unless train delayed, evening calls ‘I’m on the train’ still easy to overhear, but generally the serial phoners are a smaller hard core.

Reading/Annotating Work Stuff
Prep for meetings easy to spot. Evidence of lots of printing still going on. Like all reading sends a lot of people to sleep…

Staring Out The Window
Who knows if this is work related?

Non Work Activities

Sleeping
We think more common among younger travellers. Burning multiple ends of several candles perhaps? Snoring seems to be generally tolerated by fellow passengers

Newspaper Reading
If you work for a national newspaper you must weep every morning when you see the number of Metro readers.

Texting
It’s in the non work section because so many people are smiling while they do it. People seem to enjoy text messaging.

Book Reading
Pleasingly still common.

Media Players
Noisy headphones the most annoying thing on trains, watching video becoming more common.

What is fascinating to speculate, is how much peoples’ industry on the train has anything to do with the quality of their productivity, and how they contract with themselves around the balance of work/non-work activities.