WiFi Zombies?

Is WiFi Good or Bad for Business
The linked piece is typical journalism. Transform a social phenomenon into an “issue” and then pretend to balance advantages and disadvantages of that social phenomenon.
The blog entry itself is more to the point.

As can be expected, many publications discuss this same issue, usually rehashing the same opinions. The trigger was probably this Wired article, though that piece is less about the “zombie” phenomenon than about a way to get people involved in new online activities. Those are not new ideas as Italian cafés were allegedly exploring similar solutions a number of years ago (as per Wired, IIRC).

Café owners were discussing this same issue recently. And the Valley Advocate’s “suggestion” to Woodstar Café in Northampton is to abandon WiFi.

So, what is this all about? Wireless access to the ‘Net has greatly increased in recent years, notably in cafés and other public spaces. In many of these places, patrons bring their laptops to do different things online. Typically, these laptop users have limited interactions with people around them while they use their computer and consume fairly little through the extended period of time they spend in the public space. Some people even hog large tables at inopportune times and can become rude when they’re disturbed by someone while using their computer.
That’s one way to put it.
A large part of the question is simply about café culture, whether or not the public space is in fact a coffee shop. Despite the romanticized notion that people go to cafés to meet new people and start revolutions, cafés can serve many purposes. It can be a quiet place away from home where one can read a newspaper. Or it can be, as in Vienna, a place where people spend hours writing their thoughts while observing other people (tea houses are also good places for that). People might set up meetings at cafés because it doesn’t matter if people are late. Some cafés are even about, gasp, drinking coffee!
A common thread is that cafés are a place where people can stay for a while without bothering or being bothered by anyone. A successful café is likely to be a place where people feel welcome and can stay for a while. Quite the reverse of McDonald’s where the idea is to get people in and out as efficiently as possible. Some cafés are closer to the McDonald’s model and may even succeed, but many cafés are very successful in making people feel comfortable whether or not they consume a lot while there.

Should follow this up at some point with personal experiences in different cafés in different places.

About enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

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