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Marchetti’s Constant and why commuting actually has positive utility

@OceanJangda shared a great article with me today about “the psychological benefits of commuting to work.” It is excellent, it cites a lot of psychological research, and I would encourage all of you to give it a read. While it is never fun getting on a packed subway in the morning, the argument is that there are psychological and other positive benefits to commuting. It turns out, we need breaks in our day.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

But here’s the strange part. Many people liberated from the commute have experienced a void they can’t quite name. In it, all theaters of life collapse into one. There are no beginnings or endings. The hero’s journey never happens. The threshold goes uncrossed. The sack of Troy blurs with Telemachus’s math homework. And employers—even the ones that have provided the tools for remote work—see cause for alarm. “No commute may be hurting, not helping, remote worker productivity,” a Microsoft report warned last fall. After-hours chats were up 69 percent among users of the company’s messaging platform, and workers were less engaged and more exhausted.

It also turns out that there’s kind of a magic commute number. In the mid 1990s, Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti remarked that, all throughout history, humans have tended to cap their commute times at about 60 minutes per day. So a half hour each way. This was the case in ancient cities and it appears to be the case today (ignoring COVID).

What this mean is that as new technologies became available — such as the automobile — we were able to further decentralize and still only consume about 60 minutes of our day. Apparently the average one-way commute time in America is indeed about 27 minutes. Some people, of course, have much longer commutes, but this is the average. Currently mine is about 12-15 minutes with a coffee stop. Yes, it’s luxurious.

This 60-minute rule of thumb has become known as Marchetti’s Constant. And there are a number of possible explanations for why this has remained the case. Again, the obvious one is that it helps us detach from work, which is why so many of us have felt burnt out while working from home. We haven’t been shutting off and we need to.

For more on this, click here.

1 Comment so far

  1. Pingback: Optimistic and excited – BRANDON DONNELLY

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