Ask Ariely: On Audiobooks, Idle Waiting, and Public Transportation

August 31, 2013 BY danariely

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.


Dear Dan,

From time to time, people around me discuss a book they have read recently. While I know the book well, and I want to participate in the conversation, I hesitate because I listened to the book on tape. My first question is why am I embarrassed to say that I listened to the book? My second question is what can I do about it?


We learn how to listen and comprehend at a young age and therefore we don’t really remember how difficult it was for us. On the other hand, we learn how to read and write at a later age and we all remember the difficulty of the early struggles with reading and writing. Because of that, people associate greater difficulty with reading than listening. As a consequence, we take greater pride in reading than listening.

My first suggestion is that you realize that it isn’t necessarily the case that reading is more difficult. It’s just that we forget how difficult it is to learn to comprehend. When I got your question I purchased an audio book and I listened to it on a long flight–and for what it is worth, I find it is harder to focus when listening to a book than when reading one.

A second suggestion is that you to find a different word to describe your experience. For example, for books you loved, maybe you can say: “I inhaled that book.” For more difficult books, maybe you can say: “I struggled with it,” or some other phrase.

If these don’t work, perhaps it is time to change the meaning of the word “read.” Maybe we should acknowledge that today there are many ways to get information — audiobooks being one of them. This might seem dishonest, but you might be able to start a revolution, and help lots of people who listen to audiobooks feel more comfortable with what they’re doing. Good luck!


Dear Dan,

I noticed that when I drive around the block looking for parking I spend a lot of time too far away from my destination (I live in Chicago, and hate the cold), so instead, I just wait until somebody leaves and take the spot. It proved to be more efficient, but my friends can’t seem to stand it, and I can’t do it when I’m not alone in the car. My question is why my friends find in intolerable waiting for someone to leave.


The phenomenon you’re encountering is aversion to idleness. There was a story a while ago about an airline that tried to optimize which carousel that the luggage would come out of. There was an engineer with this airline that realized that some carousels were close to some gates, and others were close to other gates. He wrote an algorithm to try to figure out which carousels to send the luggage to so that it would be closest to where the plane was landing. Before this algorithm was created, travelers would get out of the plane, walk for a while and get to the carousel. Sometimes it was such a long walk that their luggage was waiting for them already, and they would pick it up and go home. In the new system, the carousel was much closer and people would walk a little bit, find the carousel and wait for their luggage. People hated this new system because they were standing in one place to wait for their luggage. This idleness was so unpleasant that people complained and the airline rejected this algorithm. My understanding is that they have not gone the whole way in the reverse and tried to get the luggage in the farthest carousel possible, but maybe it is something they are still working on.


Dear Dan,

Many people justify evading paying for public transportation by rationalizing that “public transportation services aren’t value for money,” that “it’s a victimless crime,” and that “as a tax paying passengers, we’ve already paid for my journey once.” Do you have any advice on counteracting these rationalizations?


Make these people buy some shares of the public transportation company.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.