Staring At Their Screens

One common phrase that’s guaranteed to rile me is when people are accused of ‘staring at their screens’. It’s usually prefixed by ‘mindlessly’. This accusation is especially often made of people on public transport or in coffee shops, not interacting with each other but instead ‘staring at their screens’.

This morning I did a quick stealthy survey (OK, I looked over their shoulders) of my carriage on the train to see what people were doing with their phones. Here’s the list—bear in mind that some people did more than one activity:

  • Three people were looking at photos (their own or Instagram)
  • Three people were watching videos (one was watching, as far as I could tell, a documentary about polio)
  • Two people were talking to their friends using a messaging app
  • Two people were checking their email
  • Replying to a job enquiry on LinkedIn
  • Reading a comic
  • Listening to the radio
  • Making a list or checking notes
  • Checking their calendar
  • Shopping (or, browsing, at least)

In none of these cases was anyone ‘staring at their screen’; that would be madness. They were looking through their phones, at the activities that everyone takes part in.

Update: 2nd August 2018

Ofcom’s Communications Market Report provides more insight into what UK commuters are doing when they are ‘staring at their screens’.

Chart showing online/on-demand activities of UK commuters

Also published on Medium.