Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There

Having recovered from spending almost £500 on a train ticket from London to Liverpool last week I jumped on another train today from London to Swindon. A comparative bargain at £64 return. Whilst I was standing on the platform an elderly women asked if I’d like to fill in a National Rail Passenger Survey. Normally I’d rather pull my own fingernails out than do such a thing but seeing she was having difficulty getting anyone to agree to it I said yes.

There were 61 questions in all, most of which seemed to relate to cleanliness and security. But there was one question that caught my eye. Question 36. Travel time use. “How did you spend your time on the train?” “Tick all that apply” and “tick one spent most time on.” I thought this would be good and indeed it was.

The form wanted to know whether I…

Slept/snoozed
Read for leisure
Worked/studied (reading/writing/thinking)
Talked to other passengers
Window gazed/people watched
Listened to music/podcast
Watched a film/video
Text messaged/phone calls (work)
Text messaged/phone calls (personal)
Checked emails
Browsed the internet
Accessed social networks
Ate/drank
Cared for someone travelling with me
Played games (electronic or otherwise)
Became bored
Become anxious about the journey
Planned an onward or return journey

In short, did I make worthwhile use of my time whilst on the train?

What I liked (disliked actually) most about this question was that implicit within it is the thought that a train journey should produce a measurable result beyond simply getting from one place to another. That time spent travelling on a train should be filled with something concrete.

I was encouraged to see the word “think” buried in one of the possible answers, although this related only to work/study. Thinking outside these areas is clearly not an option. However, one was given the option of “Being bored.”

I think this is a wasted opportunity on all fronts. As Rory Sutherland pointed out in the Spectator magazine many months ago, a train journey gives you something almost unique in the modern world: the chance to simply sit, uninterrupted, to read, watch, write and above all to think. That’s assuming, of course, that the person sitting next to you isn’t doing “all of the above”.

PS – Book update. It’s out this Thursday, and yes there’s a bit on the benefits of boredom.

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2 Responses to Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There

  1. Max Kaehn says:

    It seems to me a worthwhile question because the train journey is an opportunity. It’s not their job to control what you do on the journey, but it’s quite reasonable that they would want to facilitate you doing whatever you want on the journey, and the more opportunities they can create for that, the better they look as an alternative to driving. I would much rather have them focus on “how can we facilitate you doing whatever you want?” (which leads to comfortable seats for snoozing and a good Wi-Fi connection for connecting to the outside world) than “how can we claim your attention?” (which could lead to annoying things like “please turn your reading lamp off during the movie”).

  2. Kelly says:

    This post has reminded me of a lovely poster I saw for Eurostar many years ago that featured a doodle of a man’s thought process – the first X started in London and snaked around in the loops of his mind map and ended in a final X in Paris. The idea being you have much more time for your mind to wander while sitting on the train than on a plane. And they got the idea that for some people being “productive” is not just about having enough space to sit a laptop, but to let your mind roll about an idea and think

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