Brent Thomas has a really good post on the Global Ghost Town. Brent writes,
One of the slogans that seems to be a current favorite is that we (with the help of much technology) are creating a “global vilage.” The idea is that as technology, particularly communications technology increases, the boundaries that once separated us gradually disappear until we’re one big happy family.
But is that truly the result of the “communications revolution” as we know it? I was listening to NPR on Saturday afternoon (sorry, can’t remember the program, might have been The World?) and they interviewed a man who owns two coffee shops in Boston. The man was lamenting the fact that because his shops were “wi-fi” hot spots that many people were using them as rent free offices, sitting for hours immersed in their work, often purchasing nothing. He went on to note the change on a larger scale: people used to come to coffee shops to socialize, maybe reading a book, but often stopping for conversation.
This is a great piece and something I struggle with. I love going out with friends to coffee shops. In fact, it is one of my favorite things to do. I tended to set-up shop in coffee shops and study and read long before there was wi-fi, so wi-fi hasn’t brought about that habit. The one thing I do make sure is that I am buying coffee or something as long as I am there. And if I’m there quite a while then I will go back up and buy more.
As I was sitting here thinking about this issue I realize that I am quite the addict. I have the Starbucks T-Mobile wi-fi account so I’m good to go in any Starbucks. But there have been many occassions where I don’t even go into Starbucks to get any coffee or study, rather I will just pull up along the curb and make sure that I am close enough to receive a signal. Why go in and get coffee when I can be even more isolated and study and do email alone in my car. Man, I’m a loser. It was a really great thing when it was really late at night and I didn’t have wi-fi in my apartment back in the day. I sometimes would get in my car and drive to the nearest Starbucks and pull up in the parking lot and get wireless late into the night.
One of my favorite places to meet college students in Westwood is the local Starbucks. But it is insane. When school is in session it is impossible to get a table at all, and it is a huge Starbucks. I will see the same people in there all day and night. It gets so bad that I try and avoid that Starbucks during midterms and finals. Starbucks thought it was a bad enough problem that they removed all the outlets in the store. I suppose they were hoping that once the battery was dead, well, then the students would have to leave. That doesn’t seem to slow things down and in fact I think it has caused more of a backlash in some ways.
And though we often move into very private and individual lives hiding behind our computers, I still see the community presence that coffee shops create on college campuses. Though people are studying, they are no longer holed up, hiding quietly in the library studying. Rather, they have found ways to bring their homework into the community setting. What’s better than sitting behind a computer, studying? Sitting behind a computer, sitting next to friends who are sitting behind computers studying. So I have mixed emotions regarding this issue. I think that technology has moved us into some very isolated areas of our life. I mean, I’m sitting here at 11:37pm blogging alone on my couch when I should be in bed with my wife.
I think that what we are seeing in coffee shops is often a gathering of people who feel isolated at work or home and are hoping to find community with others, even if it means that they share the same space and not conversation.