A Casual Study on Chicago Commuter Media Consumption

During a recent commute home via the Purple Line, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone seemed to be sitting in the exact same position: head down and hunched over some type of media, be it a video on a smartphone or the day’s paper. Intrigued by the varied ways I saw Chicagoans passing their time while in transit, I decided to conduct a mini-study and tally the types of content people engaged with over the course of a week. I made my observations when the train ran express between Belmont and Howard, giving me about fifteen minutes to monitor a set carload of passengers.

As smartphones continue to rise in popularity, I suspected that smartphone usage would come out on top as the number one activity for Chicago commuters (at least on my particular stretch of the line). It turned out that listening to music was the most frequent activity, proving that even as the number of portable media devices increase, people love to listen to tunes when they are on the go. Smartphone use did come in as the second most popular activity, beating out reading books and reading magazines or newspapers. So, while it may not be the predominate commuter activity yet, smartphone use has surpassed two of the more traditional time-passing mainstays and will likely find its way to the top of the heap sometime in the near future.


How I categorized the media consumption I witnessed

  • Books: enjoying good old printed copies of fiction and nonfiction masterpieces
  • eReader: reading a Nook or a Kindle
  • Music: headphones in the ears that are hooked up to any variety of MP3 player, discman (like a rare bird, these can occasionally be spotted by the careful observer), or smartphone
  • Smartphone: smartphone in hand, checking email, playing games, or surfing the Web
  • Magazine or Newspaper: opting for a printed version of any newspaper or magazine
  • Laptop: when the smartphone or tablet won’t cut it—laptop perched on the thighs, busily typing away at a project
  • iPad: this one is pretty self-explanatory
  • Talking on a Cell: using the phone simply to talk, the old fashioned way

During my week of observations, I was also witness to some disruptive mobile device users, so look for a follow up post with a compilation of etiquette tips soon.