Eva Ferrari



Supervisor: Luciano Gamberini

Co-Supervisor: Anna Spagnolli

Graduate student: Eva Ferrari

Although mobile technology has permeated many aspects of daily life, there are still few studies on its use in such contexts. Previous studies have shown how mobility, and in particular travel time on public transport, can be enhanced by the use of technology. However, it seems that considerations on how it could be used by people in urban short journeys have been neglected.

Unlike the investigations presented in the literature to date, this project aims at understanding the use of time and mobile technology in a context of ˜extreme mobility”: the London Underground. Thanks to their portability and instantaneity of access, in fact, mobile technologies can play a key role especially in circumstances where time and space are limited.

This study has been carried out totally in field, applying a naturalistic approach and adopting a systematic observation method, where passengers were “shadowed” during a fixed period of their stay on the tube, and their activities reported on a grid. The procedure and the grid categories were based on both a prior pilot observation and on existing data gathered from various sources in the London territory.
An additional innovative element is the abandonment of an approach oriented to the study of technologies as portable working tools, in favour of an open-ended approach, in which any prior assumptions about the use of time and technology have been avoided in order not to miss out what was really going on in the field setting. The results of the study reveal how almost one third of the observed passengers used mobile technology while travelling on the Underground. It also appears as one fourth of the activities passengers engaged in involve the use of technology, while only a fifth includes activities such as “talk to other passengers” or “read”. Such a high number of ‘technology-related activities’ puts emphasis on the fact that “extreme mobility” conditions do not prevent people from using portable devices such as mobile phones and iPods, but they rather seem to encourage them. However, the laptop was found to be the least used technology among underground passengers.

Hence, it can be assumed that its use for working or studying may be a very useful way to fill the time in medium and long duration journeys, but remains somewhat of a potentially very stressful activity to engage in on the underground due to the short time available and the limited space. According to previous studies, the results reveal how the use of technology was different depending on demographic factors such as sex, age and ethnicity. Among those observed, in particular, subjects such as ‘male’, ‘young’ and ‘black’ were among the most assiduous users of technology. Differences in the use of technology have also emerged from a comparison of days of the week, of different passengers’ departure areas, and also between different underground line sections. The result revealed, in fact, that passengers tend to use mobile technologies to a greater extent during weekdays, in particular the morning, compared to the weekend. On the contrary, talking to other passengers was the most frequent activity during the weekend, but among the less usual during weekdays. These two trends might suggest that, in situations where the need for socializing cannot be directly satisfied, technology can serve as a substitute by providing passengers with new options on how to spend their time while travelling on the underground. With regard to the different areas of departure, people coming from stations based in wealthy areas of London were more likely to use mobile technologies than people coming from station based in deprived areas, with the exception of certain ethnic groups. “White” passengers coming from stations based in wealthy areas were not more likely to use mobile technology than “black” passengers coming from stations based in deprived areas. This result can suggest that, in some cases, the use of technology goes beyond the social status. Finally, the difference in the use of technology between opened underground line sections – where there is network coverage – and closed underground line sections – where the signal is absent -, reveals how technology influences passengers’ behaviour: when there is the possibility of using phones to call and send text messages within underground opened line sections, people do not hesitate to satisfy their desire to connect and communicate with.

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