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Travel and Multitasking: Digital and social divide

Given the new IT tools and digital technologies, we can use the mobile, tablet or laptop when we travel – in trains, buses, cars, auto rickshaws… Time spent travelling can be used for various kinds of activities. How do people in a metropolitan city like Mumbai use their travel time?

Varun Varghese and Arnab Jana from the IIT Bombay recently came up with an interesting observation: sociocultural conditions and the digital divide limit multitasking during travel.

To examine how various parameters impact multitasking choice, they surveyed 1,123 commuters from formal and informal housing across Mumbai. The team asked respondents to report their activities from a list of possible tasks. They gave the respondents freedom to also mention activities not on the list.  

The researchers took data on individual socioeconomic and ICT-use characteristics. They found that the poorer sections had fewer options for multi-tasking during travel.

In general, reading, talking to people or listening to music were the most preferred activities during travel. But the mode of travel also influenced the preferences. People travelling in auto rickshaws tended to prefer sleeping, reading on an ICT device, or listening to music. However, talking to fellow passengers was reduced. In buses also, the preferences remained the same, but eating was rare. In trains, people read books, newspapers and magazines besides reading on ICT devices. Playing games was also an activity preferred in trains.

While travelling to work, multitasking was less, while returning home, people tended to talk to fellow passengers. People tended to talk more to fellow passengers on weekends than during weekdays.

While older people talked more than younger people, females talked less and the tendency to listen to music was also lower.

The researchers compared satiation levels for different activities and the results indicate a mismatch between participation and preference. Participation and time allocation in doing no activity were the highest. Satiation levels were lower for sleeping, snoozing and resting.

The researchers say that under suitable conditions, the preference is to engage in some activity or the other rather than no activity. The highest amount of satiation was for using social networking websites, messaging, and phone calls. But being poor, female or engaged in the non-formal sector reduced ICT-based multitasking activities.

Multitasking during travel has policy implications. Since it can result in people valuing their travel time savings differently, it has implications on the investments in transportation infrastructure. Cheap phones and free internet in transport systems might increase multitasking during travel, and promote overall well-being and social equity. 

J. Urban Planning and Development, 154 (2):  (2019)
DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)UP.1943-5444.0000504

R Baskar
Guru Jambheshwar  University of Science and Technology

Tagged as: , , , , , , ,

Categorised in: Behavioural science, Maharashtra

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