The next big thing

How a London tube ride opened my eyes to Lean Back 2.0

One recent morning, while travelling on the tube, I glanced up momentarily from my Kindle and took in my surroundings. It was that time of the morning where commuters are bleary eyed. Nobody was talking. There were a total of 14 passengers in my section of the car (12 seated, 2 standing).

As a proud recent owner of the Kindle Touch, I immediately noticed three other Kindles in my section. Good choice! Glancing up, a twenty-something seated across from me was tinkering on his iPhone, navigating a game perhaps? A standing commuter was listening to music on her smartphone, while another was flicking through what I shall assume to be the Economist app (true story, just on a different journey). The executive next to me was speed reading his way through what looked like a work-related PDF file on his iPad, while another few were reading crumpled copies of the free Metro.

A quick tabulation revealed the following:

And then it hit me.

The London underground is the perfect exemplification of the Lean Back 2.0 experience in action. With internet and mobile connection an absolute zero at those depths of the earth, it is one of the few moments when the fast paced, information snacking, social-media filled, attention-deficit behaviour that has become so common above ground, is just not feasible. It is pleasantly distraction free.

With e-readers now starting as low as 49 quid, this sacred space of lean-back reading and “me time” has become possible and popular again. When previously I would have been restlessly thumbing through free, low-grade news sheets, numbed by gory details of yet more crime and kidnapping, I find myself much more engaged now with my choice of quality lean-back content that I’ve personally selected and downloaded onto my device. The portability factor has reduced the barriers to quality reading. Lean Back 2.0 has enabled Londoners (and any big-city commuters) to fit this immersive experience snugly into convenient pockets of time in our impossibly busy schedules.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations, using online data and some crude assumptions about the London commuter market, puts my estimate of lean-back reading potential by commuters each year at a staggering 65 million hours. This is limited mainly by the penetration of digital devices which I can only imagine will grow quite rapidly in the next few years as print gets replaced by digital and mobile.

A one-hour average tube commute per commuter per day x 655,000 (“London workers whose main method of travel to work was the underground or tram”) x 250 work days a year x 40% likelihood of owning a Lean Back 2.0 device (based on limited Kindle + iPad sample above) = 65,500,000 hours of lean-back reading enabled by digital devices per year. To put that in perspective, that is 2.7 million days in London alone!

Lean Back 2.0 has triggered a social and behavioural shift in the dynamics of reading that will spawn a generation of keen, immersive and picky readers.  And that’s good news for everyone. What are you doing on your daily commute to work? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.