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.