Tyler Cowen endorses this Interfluidity tweet: “iphones & public transit: i’ve found smartphones increase the opportunity cost of driving, tilt toward public trans. just me?”

I disagree: for me, the smartphone equivalent (an iPod Touch) has increased my productivity and happiness while using mass transit, but I still find using the Touch in a public environment uncomfortable. On the other hand, the ability to play podcasts, and to play them double speed, has dramatically improved my enjoyment of driving. Therefore, although the device has increased the quality of both experiences, the balance tilts more toward driving than it used to.

In both cases, I marvel at the increase in utility and enjoyment of what used to be wasted time.

I suppose the punch line is that I live five blocks from my office.


Mike · April 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Okay, now you’re in my house.

Uncomfortable for class-guilt reasons?

I don’t know when they introduced the double-speed feature for podcasts, but it seems like that’s more of an iPod Classic effect than a Touch/iPhone effect. The effect of the Touch is reading — and the effect of the actual iPhone, at least in cities with strong transit systems, is truly revolutionary: access to real-time trip planning.

Erik Simpson · April 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm

No, not class-guilt reasons. My big-city years do lead me to want to keep pricey articles out of plain sight, but I also find most versions of mass transit simply make using the devices difficult: stops and starts, bumps, and crowds all make usage trickier. And concentrating on a small screen in that environment also makes me feel wooky, but I know others don’t share that feeling.

That said, I’ll concede that I could be further sold on the virtues of smartphone-enabled mass transit.

But THAT said, at least for me, the ability to read and drive is itself revolutionary. To read what I choose, and to do it twice as fast as radio, is a wonder.

I could read books on mass transit before smartphones came along. I suppose what I’m revealing about myself is that, although I do use other functionalities, reading still dominates my sense of the value of these things. Smartphones and the podcasts they’ve generated have evened the playing field of reading between cars and mass transit, and cars used to be much worse for reading. Therefore, the net effect on reading is much greater for cars, and that’s a lot of what I’m looking for.

Still, I understand that I will come around to your view as the visual apps get better and better; the upside is much greater for mass transit. I look forward to the excitement of changing my answer to this question.

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