The Chicagoland rail system Metra, thanks to some budget constraints and a refusal to bombard passengers with the sort of infotainment they're confronted with in elevators, won't have on-board wi-fi anytime soon. This even though a study commissioned for the state of Illinois claimed that doing so could "have positive impacts on traffic congestion, traffic safety, the economy, and other aspects of the quality of life Illinoisans enjoy." (Look at the "positive impacts" being experienced by the man in the photo at left, which was borrowed from a sales pitch for a company that provides this service!)
I am one of the few people who actually has a fondness for commuting — the dead time, the familiar sights passing by, the curt nods people give to one another as they settle into their seats — although that could be in part because I haven't had to regularly do so for about three years. (And counting!) But either way, I am of a few minds on this topic. Item A: If people have their heads in their computers on the way to work, they're that much less likely to yammer away on their cell phones as they nervously approach and retreat from their workaday lives. That would seem to be a plus! Item B: Is anyone's Internet-tethered job really that important that a memo or a spreadsheet can't wait? (The Tribune claims that some companies out there in the Bay Area provide "credit" for time spent on trains working, which sounds like a Mystical Unicorn Of Job Perks.) Item C: Is the push for on-train wi-fi just another sign that we're all becoming Internet-addicted idiots who are unable to have a social interaction with those people actually in our physical space — like these University of Maryland students?
"I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening," said one student. "Between having a Blackberry, a laptop, a television, and an iPod, people have become unable to shed their media skin."
Moeller said students complained most about their need to use text messages, instant messages, e-mail and Facebook.
"Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort," wrote one of the students, who blogged about their reactions. "When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life."
That unnamed says that as if it's a bad thing! Although given my automatic reflex for taking my iPhone out of my bag as soon as the N train hits sunlight I probably am not one to talk.